Spotlight— Denise Thompson


To start with, can you tell us in a nutshell about your Teen Café program? What’s special or unique about it?

Explora is a place for hands-on science. People come to tinker, experiment with variables, make discoveries, and enjoy learning that is active and open-ended.



What’s your background… how did you come to be involved with your Teen Café program?

I have a geology degree, but have never worked as a scientist, I’ve always done science education.  I   currently manage an internship program for high-school students at Explora. I am part of Teen Science Café  because I am directly involved with much of the museum’s goings-on with teens.



What organization provides a home for your Teen Café program?  How do you see your program fitting with that organization’s mission?

Teens are very focused on the next step in their education and career. Social interactions are incredibly important, and experiences that have a real-life component are also important to them, so the opportunity to meet a professional in an informal setting is a great fit.  Explora is actively working on becoming a bigger resource for teens as they embark on college or training for STEM jobs, and here, too, TSC fits perfectly.


What’s the biggest stumbling block you have encountered as your program has developed?

We have widely-varying attendance numbers, and we haven’t really identified why some cafés are popular and others aren’t. Or, what efforts on publicity work and which don’t.


What has been your favorite Café? What made it so?

My favorite part of all the Cafés are the Q&A time.  The best interactions happen here, and the whole program comes together in that moment. I like it when you can tell that the teens “get” the science when they ask a really good on-topic question.  I like it even more when a teen asks an oddball question.  The presenters always answer with honesty and openness, and those moments seem to be the most meaningful for the teens.

We had a presentation on Tyrannosauruses, and there was a student that held an anti-evolution worldview who brought up some questions in a somewhat argumentative manner.  The teen came with a chip on his shoulder.  The presenter listened, responded, and wanted to truly understand the teen.  I don’t know if the Café impacted the teen’s views on evolution, but the willingness of the presenter to engage in a civil conversation made a noticeable difference on the teen.  The teen settled-down, was more respectful and willing to listen listen, and had some admiration for the presenter.  The best learning is often not about the topic.


What do you like best about your program in general?

I’ve been able to meet people that do really interesting work. Presenters, of course, but other adult leaders have been great to get to know. I’ve gotten a lot out of this program for teens!

Do you have any advice for those just starting their own Teen Cafés?

Remember the strengths of your Café program, and your own strengths as an adult leader. There are a lot of elements in a Café, and alway something that could go better. It is easy to feel overwhelmed, or that is isn’t going well.  Don’t lose sight of the great things that do happen, and use those successes to build momentum to work on the weak-spots.

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