In a nutshell, describe your Teen Café program. What’s special or unique about it?
Our program, sponsored by Sanford PROMISE, is led by four students and a faculty sponsor. We meet once a month at Sanford Research, a biomedical research facility, where our leadership team plans the speaker and activity for the meeting. Due to the many rural towns in South Dakota, we have been holding hybrid meetings this past year, which have allowed us to accommodate around 30 students. We are unique because we have access to research scientists, healthcare workers and university professors.
What’s your background? How did you become involved with your Teen Café program?
I was a high school biology teacher for many years before moving over to my role as an education specialist with the PROMISE program. When I joined the program, I inherited a program that was already established by my predecessor, Liz McMillan. I have been running this café for four years.
What organization provides a home for your Teen Café program? How do you see your program fitting with that organization’s mission?
Sanford PROMISE is the outreach arm of Sanford Research and is the sponsor of our café. One goal of Sanford PROMISE is to increase science and health literacy in our community and Teen Science Café is a wonderful way to that. Many students who come to cafes come back to do shadows and internships.
What’s your biggest stumbling block as your program has developed?
The pandemic affected our outreach program as it did many others. Teachers are our biggest champions by helping us to get the word out and they were struggling to figure out how to teach. We took some time to develop a website and social media presence. That has helped us to reach students directly.
What achievement are you most proud of with your Teen Café program?
I am very proud of our student leaders who show up and plan events even though they are incredibly busy. We have developed a tight group of teens who show up regularly and have formed community. They invite their friends and it is slowly growing year after year.
What has been your favorite café and why?
My favorite and our largest ever café featured Dr. Kenneth Snell who is a forensic pathologist and medical examiner. The students were so excited to learn from him.
What is one aspiration you have for your Teen Café program and how will you manifest it?
We currently have students from four schools in our area but I would like to have all our schools represented at these events. I plan to network more so I can find teachers who can help us spread the word.
Do you have any advice for those just starting, re-starting, or sustaining their own Teen Café program?
You really have to just go for it and find a couple students that you can trust to help you build it up. It is also important to have a plan for replacing leaders who graduate out so you can keep some consistency while also bringing in new energy. It’s definitely worth your time to invest in the next generation of problem-solvers!