Going Back to Jersey — Spotlight on Maureen Barrett and Founding Teen Coordinator Sanjana

Maureen Barrett
HMS Teen Science Café
Mt. Laurel, NJ


When we say New Jersey, what comes to mind?… The Turnpike? Wawa’s? Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen? Well, with the help of Maureen Barrett, you can add Teen Science Cafés to that list! April 2016’s spotlight is on Maureen Barrett and the Harrington Middle School Teen Science Café.

The HMS Teen Science Café learned how CPR can save lives.

TSCN: To start off, please, tell us in a nutshell about your Teen Café program. What is special or unique about it?

MB: We believe that the Teen Science Café is the best way to connect students with the leaders of today in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These STEM professionals will inspire students to become the leaders of tomorrow, and the
café provides them with the opportunity to do so. The students are given the chance to learn about a variety of STEM careers, from cardiology to the fundamentals of robotics. What’s interesting about the Teen Science Café events is that not only have the participants learned about STEM in the real world, they have learned to become leaders themselves. Our Teen Science Café leaders have been instrumental in making our café events a success!


HMS Teen Science Café presenters have captured the attention of the teens

TSCN: Tell us a little about your background. How did you personally come to be involved with your Teen Café program?

MB: In August of 2015, Sanjana Jampana, a former Harrington Middle School student of mine, approached me about being her mentor for her Girl Scout Gold Award. She wanted to start a STEM program that would engage middle school students in STEM education, but she stressed that she wanted it to be sustainable. What is ironic is that I had just returned from attending the National Marine Educators Association conference in Rhode Island where I participated in a workshop about the Teen Science Café program. Together we decided we wanted to establish a Teen Science Café program at Harrington Middle School, and we were both very ex
cited for the 2015-16 school year to start!



TSCN: Your program has a home with Harrington Middle School, how do you see it fitting with their mission?
Sanjana and I brainstormed where we could hold our Teen Science Café events: local cafes, pizzerias, restaurants, etc. However, we decided to have our first Teen Science Café leadership meeting in the STEM room at Harrington Middle School. But at that meeting, we soon discovered the location would not do because we had so many students show up at the leadership meeting! We now hold our meetings and events in our school’s cafeteria. Having the café events at our school actually works very well for our café leaders and attendees because our school offers a late bus after our café events. We feel our meetings and events are well attended partly because of the availability of transportation


TSCN: What is the biggest stumbling block you have encountered as your program has developed?

MB: Fortunately, I don’t think we’ve hit a big stumbling block yet. We are keeping our fingers crossed!


TSCN: What has been your favorite Café, and what made it so?

MB: We have had three café events so far. I thought they were all great in their own way!


Teen solving the hands-on activity at a recent café in Mt. Laurel, NJ

TSCN: In general, what do you like best about your program?

MB: Sanjana is the Teen Leader Coordinator of our Teen Science Café program. Prior to our first meeting, we brainstormed committees for the students. Sanjana then came up with detailed responsibilities for each committee. At our first leader meeting, she discussed the responsibilities for each committee, and then the student leaders selected the committee that interested them. Throughout this first year, we continue to be impressed with how well the student leaders are doing their jobs. The third Core Design Principle of the Teen Science Café states that “Teens gain a sense of ownership of their program through opportunities of leadership.” This principal works! We are very proud of our Teen Science Café leaders!



TSCN: Having just gone through the inception of a new Café, what advice do you have to those just starting their own Teen Cafés?  

MB: Just let go of the reins. The Teen Science Café leaders will not let you down!


Thanks Maureen, we are looking forward to all the great things you’ll be doing with the Harrington Middle School Teen Science Café. You’ve made New Jersey proud!

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