Exciting Challenges Ahead — Spotlight on Michael Mayhew

Michael Mayhew
Teen Science Café Network Resource Center
Baltimore, MD


For a change of pace, this month’s Spotlight is not on a Teen Café program leader, but on one of the co-directors of the Teen Science Cafe Network. The Spotlight shines on Michael Mayhew, who’ll tell us about some of the exciting challenges the TSCN has ahead.


Mike, to get started, what’s your background… how did you come to be involved with TSCN?

I had a 20+ year career at NSF, around half that time managing the geophysics program and the later half in geoscience education. After leaving NSF, I started working with Michelle Hall at Science Education Solutions.

In 2006, Michelle and wandered into a AAAS session in which we heard a presentation about the Cafe Scientifique approach to engaging the public with science and scientists. We left the meeting excited, thinking this sounded like a splendid idea indeed, and it led us to wonder whether this might be a good way to connect science and that hard-to-reach segment of the public, the high school teenager. We were able to get a grant from NSF to try the experiment in four towns of very diverse character in northern New Mexico. The experiment proved so successful that we were able to get another NSF grant to take the model nationwide, and with five inaugural nodes the Teen Science Cafe Network was born.


The TSCN coordination effort has a home in the Science Education Solutions… how do you see it fitting with SES’s mission?

The mission statement of SES says in part that “Science Education Solutions is active in a wide range of programs to help learners of all ages discover and understand the world through science…. Most projects involve collaborations with a number of other organizations to bring the best talent and ideas together.” So starting TSCN and Cafe Scientifique New Mexico before it were a very natural fit for the company.

That said, although TSCN is of overwhelming importance to the company, we have also had grants to do some other interesting projects, including design of GIS-based geoscience curricula, development and field-testing of a virtual peer review system, and creation of some fun card games that get across the interdependency of energy, water, and climate.

Mike holds forth at a teen leader training

Mike holds forth at a teen leader training

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

Let’s not call it a stumbling block; let’s call it an exciting challenge. From the beginning we have envisioned that the growing national program—which so many all across the Network now share—would become a true community of practice, in which each participant has the opportunity to contribute and each can expect to receive benefit. For that it is necessary to create many pathways to communication, collaboration, and sharing, and this has been Michelle’s and my primary focus as co-directors. If there is a stumbling block ahead it may lie in the challenge of maintaining the current all-for-one-one-for-all collaborative spirit of the community of practice as the Network grows large… and we are already at 55 sites.



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

That’s a tough one. In CafeNM alone we have had over 80 presenters since 2007, and very, very few of their cafes have been duds. Many have been quite splendid. If forced to choose, I guess it would be Russ Morton’s zombie-themed cafe on brain neuroscience. In his presentation he demonstrated that certain brain pathologies could explain zombie behavior… including slow zombies and fast zombies! He showed clips from old zombie movies. He did it tongue-in-cheek, as if zombies are real and really out there with their bad brains. The kids had a blast dressing up as zombies, with liberal applications of fake blood.


What do you like best about your program in general?

I’m going to resist a forced choice because there is so much to like. I have really liked interacting with the many delightful people who have enthusiastically joined the Network and put their own creativity on developing a unique Teen Cafe program. I have enjoyed interacting with presenters and seeing how much they get out of their participation… often to their surprise. And I have also very much enjoyed interacting with goofy, out-there teenagers… they are so much fun.


That’s all for today’s Spotlight. Thanks Mike! Stay tuned for next months Spotlight, where we will take a trip to NYC.