Gateway Teen Science Café – Cahokia
Located just outside the city of St. Louis, but in the state Illinois, you can find the Cahokia HS site of the Gateway Teen Science Café node. With that location, you gotta wonder, Cubs or Cardinals? This month we shine the Spotlight on Annamary King.
To start off, please, tell us in a nutshell about your Teen Café program. What’s special or unique about it?
Cahokia High School is a site within the Gateway Teen Science Café node, the other sites being the St. Louis Science Center and the Academy of Science St. Louis. We are unique in that we are the only school in our group and we are not in St. Louis; we are in Illinois. What is special about our café program? That’s an easy answer – the kids. We have a small group of very creative, very enthusiastic students who love this program and are very committed to it. Working with them and watching them grow in leadership and in knowledge has been a joy.
Tell us a little about your background, how did you personally come to be involved with your Teen Café program?
I am a high school science teacher who began my career as a meteorologist in the Air Force. I have always loved math, science, and working with kids. I am always looking for ways to introduce my students to careers where they can apply their interest in math and science. Through some classes and workshops I had a connected with the STEM Center at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. They invited me to be part of the Teen Science Café project in 2013 when it began in our area.
What is the biggest stumbling block you have encountered as your program has developed?
Right now, our biggest stumbling block is funding. The original grant that paid for our cafés has run out. We have had small donors who have helped, but we haven’t been able to secure the financing to cover the cost of the cafés for the coming school year.
What was your favorite Café? What made it so?
Although I have loved every café (seriously, I have) there are several cafés that I can name as favorites for various reasons. Our very first café in February of 2013 was Zombies! A Lesson in Infectious Diseases and Disaster Preparedness. I loved it because the kids went all out with zombie make up and had zombie themed food that included a giant red jello brain and chocolate pudding cups covered with Oreo cookie dirt and Gummi worms crawling out. Our speaker was so interesting, and so were her hands-on activities. I also loved the café where we went to St. Louis University Parks College of Aviation because we got to fly an aircraft simulator and see the wind tunnel in action. We also got to fire ping pong balls at objects in one of their labs. How great is that?
In general, what do you like best about your program?
The easier question to answer is “what do I dislike about the program?” because the answer is absolutely nothing. Every single one of our speakers has been interesting and so excited about their work and also to have the opportunity to share their passion with us. At 58 I am still intensely curious about so many things. The Teen Science Café has been just as much a learning experience for me as it has for my students. I love that feeling of exhilaration that I get when I hear our scientists speaking so passionately about what they do. I also love that I am increasing my knowledge about so many things that I find interesting, but would not ordinarily have a reason to learn about, such as indoor air quality, the physics of super lasers, or infectious disease.
What advice do you have to others in the Network who may be in your shoes?
First, don’t micromanage. Allow the kids to take ownership and to make the café what they want it to be. I only step in if they aren’t getting the job done in a timely manner or if some of their plans are larger than our budget. Second, don’t be afraid to ask people to help… this includes speakers or potential donors. The worst thing that can happen is they say no and you move on.
Thanks Annamary! Stay tuned for our next Spotlight.