Blog for Developing Youth STEM Change Makers - Making a Difference!

Posted by: Jim Callahan on February 16, 2023


This month, we will be focusing on three NSF-funded programs with a common theme: young people as change makers in STEM. Research literature supports an understanding that at least a significant fraction of teenagers have greater motivation in education when they are taken seriously, listened to about what matters to them, and feel that they are able to make a difference in society (Broadbent 2011). When STEM is relevant to their lives and their personal and community identities, all of America’s young people – in all its diversity – will more likely be better represented in fields of STEM in the years to come.  Students are more likely to engage in and study STEM with more enthusiasm, when given such opportunities (Drayton and Puttick 2018, Puttick and Drayton 2017).


In our upcoming expert webinar panel, we will look in on three programs that have been working with middle and high school students for years, presenting teenagers with opportunities to gain experience in work for societal change involving STEM.  Whether the audience for your research is business, government, academia or others; important insight about teenagers is to be found in what these three programs have learned. Drawing from their own words, here is an introduction to the projects represented by the three panelists in this month’s webinar:


Kelly Greene of the SciTech Institute will share about the Chief Science Officers: A Strategy for Student Awareness and Industry Engagement project. Chief Science Officers (CSOs) are students elected by their peers in grades (6-12) to be liaisons for STEM and innovation in their schools and community. CSOs amplify student voices by bringing their peers and community leaders together to ignite new opportunities in STEM and innovation (Babendure and Balfakih 2018, Iyer 2017). On campus, they identify opportunities for speakers, field trips, and science nights. Off campus, they participate in community forums and function as the point person for community initiatives in STEM. They serve as thought leaders and ambassadors, working with school boards, government, business, and industry to promote STEM awareness and engagement. They all get to experience an annual Leadership Training Institute, regional cabinet meetings, and mentorship with STEM professionals.


Mike Barnett of Boston College will share about the Change Makers: Urban Youth Food Justice Ambassadors project. This project entails the recruitment of low-income youth from populations underrepresented in science, into a program where social justice concerns (food justice, food security) are illuminated, analyzed, and acted upon with and through the development of STEM knowledge and skills. This approach is different from the many programs that focus on teaching STEM to close the opportunity gap. Specifically, the program recognizes the potential for urban youth to become deeply knowledgeable citizens who understand the localization of food injustice within their communities and can mobilize their enhanced STEM knowledge and skills to illuminate and resolve social injustices such as food deserts. They do this by engaging high school youth in learning how to design and build larger scale hydroponic systems in after-school settings in three Massachusetts cities where they learn the science behind hydroponics and learn how to become leaders and mentors to their younger peers. 


Kevin Cuff will share about the Schoolyard Scientists: An Investigation of Impacts Associated with Urban Youth project.  The East Bay Academy for Young Scientists (EBAYS) is a community-driven science program based at UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science. EBAYS employs an approach to science learning that engages middle and high school students directly in science investigations that are both based in the community and driven by local social justice issues. The program targets youth who are historically underrepresented in STEM fields by being embedded in urban science classrooms in order to increase capacity for engaging a broader population of youth participants. The program goals include environmental science content learning and developing socially conscious individuals who are capable of both questioning the status quo and identifying sustainable solutions to improve quality of life. This work provides evidence of how to support youth outcomes beyond the development of skillsets needed to be successful STEM workers and considers how to equip youth to marshal science to advocate for justice. 


This month’s playlist not only includes videos from these three projects, but also from other projects that help convey the diversity of work that enable students to learn science as they engage with meaningful problems in their community and their world.  Watch videos by the Innovate to Mitigate, YouthAstroNet, Globe Student Vloggers, and the NASA SEES projects.


I can say with certainty that many of the middle and high school teachers, informal educators, and students I work with are very much looking forward to learning from the upcoming Theme of the Month.  It is the outlook of our teams that, to be effective STEM Change Makers ourselves, we should not miss opportunities to draw from the lessons shared by others who are doing similar work.



Babendure, J.  & N. Balfakih  (2018) "Enter the Nation’s First Student Chief Science Officers: Impacting STEM education with Student Voice" NSTA’s Connected Science Learning Journal, 2018,


Broadbent, J. (2011). Social and political dynamics under intensifying climate change: Proposal for a long-term data collection project. NSF White Paper on Grand Challenges for the Social, Behavioral and Economic sciences.


Drayton, B. & Puttick, G. (2018). Innovate to Mitigate: Learning as activity in a team of high school students addressing a climate mitigation challenge. Sustainability in Environment 3, 1-25.


Iyer, Dhruv (2017) "Outside the Tower: Young science officers lead by example." Science, v.355, 2017, p.256


Puttick, G. & Drayton, B. (2017). Innovate to Mitigate: Science learning in an open-innovation challenge for high school students. Sustainability in Environment, 2, 389-418.


View playlist related to this theme »