A Café Format Change Up

Kerry Stevison, Senior Educator, School and Community Partnerships at the Saint Louis Science Center shares a new immersive college café format with the network

While most cafés are designed to have a scientist present on a topic and then have teens participate in hands-on activities, some experiences can benefit from a different format. Here at the St. Louis Node, we have experimented with a few alternatives. One experimental format that worked well was an immersive college experience for the teens. Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology at St. Louis University http://parks.slu.edu hosted this experience with two professors and four graduate students.

At Parks College, the teens were given the opportunity to see amazing tools used in an aerospace engineering school. This was not a college tour—instead, the teens focused on just one career, aerospace engineering, and were able to participate in experiments using the school’s equipment. Teens stood in front of a wind tunnel, played with an advanced flight simulator, watched a metal rod get pulled apart, and more. All of these things could only be done at the aerospace engineering facilities, so the café had to be held at the college.

So that the teens could have the best experience, they were divided into small groups that were led by the professors and graduate students. Each group then followed a set rotation, which meant all the teens could visit each of five stations. Groups remained at each station for 10 to 15 minutes and were able to interact with a tool and ask questions. For some teens, this was their first visit to a college campus. For others, it was an in-depth look at careers in aerospace engineering. The café also allowed the teens to interact with graduate students, who are closer to their age than the professor, and allowed the teens to ask questions of real students studying engineering. Many of the teens stated that this was their favorite café so far.

While Teen Science Cafés usually follow a specific format in order to incorporate the five core principles, alternative formats can be beneficial if the experience calls for it. Other possible formats could include a café with multiple hands-on activities interspersed within the scientist’s presentation, or even outdoor field studies. Experimenting with a variety of formats could enhance an already wonderful program.