To start with, can you tell us in a nutshell about your Teen Café program? What’s special or unique about it?
I oversee the Delaware Teen Science Café, which started in 2018. It is the first Teen Science Café program to come to the state of Delaware. Now in our second year we have expanded the program to have cafes taking place in multiple locations in order to reach a wider audience of teens and this is something we hope to expand upon in the future.
What’s your background… how did you come to be involved with your Teen Café program?
I have worked at the Delaware Museum of Natural History for 11 years and held many different titles over the years. In 2018 the National Teen Science Café network got in touch with the Museum with the hopes of starting a Teen Science Café program in Delaware. The program seemed to be on track with many of our organization’s goals and at the time my position included overseeing our high school volunteers so I was put in charge of starting this project. Since then my position at the Museum has changed but I have kept the Teen Science Café program as a part of my job. No matter what I am doing, Café Coordinator is my favorite add on to my job title.
Figure 1. Hands-on activity from our very first cafe where teens built structures to withstand earthquakes.
What organization provides a home for your Teen Café program? How do you see your program fitting with that organization’s mission?
The Delaware Museum of Natural History is the home of the Delaware Teen Science Café and our Teen Leadership Team that runs our cafes. We were so excited for the opportunity to become part of the Teen Science Café Network and begin a program like this in Delaware because there was a real need for informal science programming for teens in our area and it fit in so well with the goals and mission of our organization. The Delaware Museum of Natural History will be closing its door to renovate and reopen at the Delaware Museum of Nature and Science. We have been working towards this transformation for many years and part of these goals was to expand our programming from just Natural History into wider STEM topics. The Teen Science Café program was a great way to begin to step beyond what we had traditionally been known for in this area and showcase what we were becoming. Our mission is to investigate nature and science, preserve and interpret our collections, conduct scientific research, and inspire people of all ages to a lifetime of exploration and discovery. The Delaware Teen Science Café program has allowed us to expand on our mission of inspiring a lifetime or exploration and discovery by inspiring teens to grow a passion for science that they will hopefully carry with them throughout all the stages of their life.
What’s the biggest stumbling block you have encountered as your program has developed?
One of the biggest stumbling blocks as the program has developed has been finding a way to accurately determine how many attendees our café will have. This is something we encounter each café and has evolved over time. We use an online ticketing system to have attendees preregister. Since this is a free program they are basically RSVPing to attend this allows us to get an estimate on attendees and also helps us gather emails and contacts for future marketing. When we first started out our program was not well known so we could have 40 sign up and only 20-something teens would come. We would end up with a lot of leftover food and supplies. I remember handing out entire pizzas to go at some of our first cafes because we would have so much leftover. Now that our program is in its second year, we have started encountering the opposite problem we have more teens arriving than expected, which is great! However, this year the unthinkable happened, which I will never live down, we ran out of pizza. So as our program grows we have been trying to continually adapt and be ready to make sure we can give a great experience to all that attend our cafes.
What has been your favorite Café? What made it so?
I’ve asked this question of my Teen Leaders and always been surprised that almost none of them have the same answer or for the same reasons. We have had so many amazing speakers that have really taken a chance on our program since they have usually never heard anything like it before. I would have to say my personal favorite was when we had Peter Graziano, the Research and Development Manager at Herr Foods Inc., lead a café on some of the food science behind some of your favorite snack foods. The presentation was interactive, interesting, tasty, and smelly! The speaker had multiple interactive hands-on portions that were multisensory as well. My favorite was a flavor guessing game based off scents that they use on their products. The smells were so powerful the whole room smelled for hours afterwards. I especially enjoyed how every attendee got to leave with a bag of chips.
Figure 2. Building earthquake proof structures.
What do you like best about your program in general?
Of course my favorite part of our program is the Teen Leadership Team there would not be a Delaware Teen Science Café without them. We started with 5 founding members and have expanded to 9 in our second year. I have been so proud of their hard work getting the word out about this new program in our area. Especially now in our second year each café was becoming more successful than the last. I am not sure when this will be published but right now we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was so disappointed to have to cancel our cafes through the rest of the school year since they were probably going to be our biggest successes yet. However, the Teen Leaders have not given up and have been forging ahead with ideas for ways to connect with their peers in this novel time. I feel privileged to get to work with some of the best and the brightest of the next generation and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.
Do you have any advice for those just starting their own Teen Cafés?
I was very fortunate to be able to attend the National Teen Science Café conference the summer before beginning our café program. What I learned at the conference was invaluable to starting up our café. Mostly because it gave me the opportunity to talk with others that had gone through the process of starting a café and talk to them about their successes and failures. If you are not able to attend a conference I strongly suggest reaching out to other cafes in the network for advice and resources. The resources page on the National Teen Science Café network page was also a huge help, I think I read every web page and resource it had as I was getting ready to start the Delaware Teen Science Café program it was great to not have to start from scratch and being able to build from the foundations of so many other great organizations.
Figure 3. Hands on activities in which teens tried to guess flavors of favorite snacks by smell