Staff turnover is a fact of life at many institutions, and non-profits that hold Teen Science Café programs are no exception. Here at the Gateway node in St. Louis, two of our three sites have lost staff. It can be difficult for both the remaining staff and the youth leaders.
At the Saint Louis Science Center, I replaced the original teen mentor after the first year of the program. Happily, I had already attended one Café, and the youth leaders helped to guide me through. The youth leaders, in fact, were a great help, and I think that showing me what to do gave them a sense of responsibility and empowerment. It turned into a good leadership opportunity for them. In addition to that, my predecessor had kept all her files on a shared drive that I could access. The transition would have been much more difficult if I had had to gain access to her computer and search through all her files for the relevant information. Other site mentors, too, gave a lot of advice. With help from the youth leaders, good documentation, and assistance from other site mentors, I was able to muddle through until I got the hang of being a Teen Science Café Mentor.
There are things mentors can do to facilitate possible future transitions. For example, I have asked another staff
member to assist with portions of the program. Holly has been wonderful; although the program is not primarily her responsibility, she attends all the Cafés and as many dry-runs and youth leader meetings as she can. She has also helped with databases and recruitment. I also think that youth leaders feel a stronger sense of stability if they are familiar with mentors and teens from other sites in our node. Our sites occasionally hold joint trainings or celebrations so that teens can get to know other people in our node. They get to see that it is a region-wide program with many people involved. Additionally, it helps to keep a binder of important information that can be handed to a new mentor—one with a copy of the original grant proposal, a checklist with what is needed for each Café, and any necessary forms such as photo release forms, etc.
I would love to hear ideas from other nodes about things that you do to handle staff turnover.
Kerry Stevison is with the St. Louis Science Center, one of three sites in the Gateway Teen Science Cafe node.