Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Bringing STEM Professionals to Your Program

Students and STEM professionals alike benefit when they're brought together in an afterschool environment. Connecting youth to scientists breaks the stereotype of scientists and their work as being elite, inaccessible, too hard, or boring. By working directly with students, scientists have the benefit of knowing that they're having an impact on the future scientific workforce. Educators, parents, and community volunteers can all play a part in connecting students to scientists.

But finding a scientist willing to take time to talk to afterschool students may present a challenge. Fortunately, there is an able and enthusiastic effort to bring the two communities together. If you're a parent or educator who wants to bring scientists into your child's afterschool program--or a STEM student looking for a science mentor--where should you start looking?
  • Scientist outreach online communities. There are several great sources for finding scientists in your area, and more initiatives are underway. The National Lab Network is an online source for scientist volunteers and classrooms in need can connect with one another. Scientific American is leading another outreach initiative, 1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days, to recruit more scientists who may be interested in educational outreach.
  • Science departments at colleges and universities. Many departments offer some kind of educational outreach--such as public lectures, summer camps, mentoring, or on-site science fairs. Some departments may require graduate students to participate in outreach activities as part of their course of study. Contact your local institution--the undergraduate or graduate student advisor might be a good place to see if there is an outreach program already in place.
  • Corporate volunteering. Large companies that do scientific, engineering, or technological research and development are a great resource for contacting professional scientists. Some corporations may have annual corporate volunteer days or offer tours of their facilities to student groups. See if your local company has a corporate responsibility or outreach department, or contact your local volunteering center to find a corporate volunteering partner. 
If you're a scientist looking for an afterschool program in your area to work with, try searching in the National After School Science Directory or viewing the Coalition for Science After School members in your area.

For more insight on this topic, check out the discussion on our LinkedIn page.

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