Do you have trouble finding presenters? For many people, a stereotypical scientist works in a lab with a lab coat and is probably an older white male. One of the great things about these cafes is that it shows that scientists are actually a diverse population of men and women of all ages and colors and with all kinds of outfits. Or at least, that’s what we should strive for. But what about diversity of topics and careers?
I’m currently working in a Center for STEM, where STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This broadens the scope of our work to include many interrelated fields. Taking this mindset towards science outreach also expands your choice of guest speakers, and it’s good for students to realize how science infiltrates all of these fields.
At the Gateway cafes, we’ve had laboratory scientists, field scientists, healthcare professionals, engineers, and most recently a science game designer. All of these people use science in their career in various ways, but they have taken a variety of paths. Some do controlled experiments, while others observe natural phenomena. Some use science to teach, and not just in the cafe setting. Engineers build and design everything from buildings to airplanes using scientific principles.
As a result of cafe interactions, teens have tried laboratory exercises, examined nature, built their own paper airplanes, and explored how to design games. They get to learn about the path these STEM professionals have taken and, we hope, imagine the possibilities for their own paths.
Are your students scientists, too? In a very general sense, yes, they are being scientists when they ask questions, investigate a problem, and make hypotheses. If they pursue it as a career, then they can become a STEM professional, or someone who works in one of these related fields. We can all be scientists, even if we’re not all technically STEM professionals. But when you expand your horizons, you may realize that there are great STEM professionals, and thus potential Teen Science Cafe speakers, all around you!