Spotlight on Lauren Traister

 

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

We started the VTeen 4-H Science Pathways Café in the Fall of 2017. The initial group of teen leaders spent the Fall designing all aspects of the café – location, time, logo, topics and more. The teen leaders interviewed café presenters to help them make the café more teen-friendly, engaging, and hands-on. Our first café was in February 2018. We thought we would be successful if we had 20 participants. We ended up with 115 registering and 85 showing up to the café! (See our video on our first café)

We hold the cafés on the campus of the University of Vermont in Burlington. Burlington is the largest city and shopping hub in Vermont and many people think nothing of driving 1-2 hours to spend time there. We have been lucky that participants come from all over Vermont, not just from the greater Burlington area. I think we have had high turnout because our cafés are on Saturday nights from 5-7 pm. Teens are usually done other activities by then (sports, theater, band, etc.) and parents can come to Burlington, drop off their children and go have dinner or do errands.

Teens working together on circuits at a recent café about hybrid race cars

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

I am the Teen & Leadership Program Coordinator for the University of Vermont Extension, 4-H Program. In March 2017 I received an email about the teen science cafés that inquired if we would like to start one in Vermont. To be honest, I put the email aside for months. I was swamped with other work and couldn’t really focus on starting a new initiative. However, since this program has a teen leadership component to it I kept it on the back burner. Once I revisited the email I realized that this would be a great match with the work I do in 4-H. Science is one of our mission mandates and I was excited to start the first café in Vermont and let teens take the lead.

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

See above.

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

We luckily have not had any real stumbling blocks. I think the one thing that will be an issue is funding. We have not yet been able to identify a main sponsor of the program. Luckily we have a State 4-H Foundation that has provided funds to make sure the cafés continue.

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

 

My favorite café to date has been the one on GIS maps and decision making. The teen leaders did a really great job helping the presenter narrow down the activity options to find a few that really turned out great. The main activity was having participants investigate two different case studies that would demonstrate the use of maps in policy decisions. This activity really got the participants collaborating with each other, sharing ideas, problem solving and learning how to make good decisions – all while learning about a cool technology used in science!

Teens working together on the GIS case studies

What do you like best about your program in general?

I love everything about this program! But, I think the thing I like best is that we have been able to reach a diverse group of youth who are passionate about science and want to learn about different pathways in science. We are able to connect the science community in Vermont with our youth and vice versa. One of the teen leaders recently commented that while she knew about some of the science pathways we showcased in the cafés, she had no idea that we had scientists doing this work right here in Vermont. She is someone who wants to stay in Vermont for college and beyond and now she sees that a career in science is possible in her home state!

Teens work together to make a policy decision in their GIS café

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

Teens are busy! It would be impossible to get my teen leaders in the same room to plan the cafés. So I send out a Doodle Poll about 2 weeks before we need to meet and have them identify dates and times that they are available for a meet up over Zoom. We almost always meet on a weekday around 8 pm. This has worked really well – it keeps most of the teens involved and on task. Between Zoom meetings I send them email reminders and ask them to update each other on what they’ve done around promotion.