Ninth grader Ronak Dhingra, and Teen Science Café teen leader, guest-blogs on ZooHoo!
The Teen Science Café Network, founded by the National Science Foundation, is a national organization that aims to get teens passionate and excited about science at an early age, with the hope they will consider a STEM career. Why teens? We are the next generation of the workforce and the future of society.
According to the STEM advocacy group Change the Equation, only 36 percent of all high school graduates are ready to take a college-level science course. Our cafés bring science to life by people who love it and experience it everyday – real scientists. These scientists share what is fun about what they do (without using any jargon). Our hope is to shift some perspectives and get teens to see that maybe they do like science even though they may not enjoy it at school.
The Dallas Zoo Teen Science Café was started last summer. We selected the Dallas Zoo to host because of its reputation as a leading zoo in the nation, and its many programs geared towards children. I felt, as a former Dallas Zoo Youth Volunteer, that the Zoo would be a great sponsor for a Teen Science Café.
Dallas Zoo’s vice president of Conservation and Education, Dr. Patty McGill, kicked off our first-ever café. She has a cool job that includes traveling up and down the Chilean and Peruvian coasts counting and studying Humboldt penguins. She led the audience in a series of activities in which we had to look at a picture of many birds from afar and estimate how many penguins there were. This may seem easy, but it gets hard when there are many black and white birds standing in a crowd! It was also very cool to walk through the Zoo at night when nobody else is there.
Our second café featured Professor John Sibert from the University of Texas at Dallas who spoke about “The Mighty Atom: From Discovery to Molecular Architecture.” He demonstrated how molecular architecture was connected to the building we were sitting in. He also had us make our own spectroscopes, which are instruments that allow us to identify elements and materials using light spectrums.
When I looked through my spectroscope, I saw the element “signatures,” which were bands of color differing from one element to another in small ways. It’s amazing to think of how these relatively few building blocks make everything up.
From these cafés with amazing speakers, teens take away cool facts and knowledge about science and, most importantly, a passion for STEM.
Hey, teens, join us at one of our next cafés:
Jan. 15: Computation + Creativity: The New Literacy by Professor Greenberg (Southern Methodist University, computer science)
March 19: Professor Gonzalez (University of Texas at Dallas, biology)
April 23: Professor Ranganathan (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, biology)
I promise these events will be fun and exciting! Hope to see you then.