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Local teens laughed, brainstormed and ate pizza during Monday’s Caf Scientifique meeting at UNM-LA. President Michelle Hall, Ph.D., of Science Education Solutions in Los Alamos, is spearheading the new program funded by the National Science Foundation.Cafs Scientifiques are spreading across the globe and bringing people from all walks of life together to explore, discuss, and debate the latest ideas in science and technology in a social context.Hall is setting up Cafs in Los Alamos, Espaola/ Pojoaque, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. While other Caf Scientifique programs are geared toward adults, the local program is the first in the country devoted solely to teenagers.“The National Science Foundation funded us to see if this type of program would engage teens in science, engineering and technology issues and increase their knowledge and appreciation of the role they play in our world,” Hall said. “The second goal is to encourage civil discourse and critical thinking about complex science issues in the news. I have told the kids they are making a program that will ultimately be exported to the other 50 states. The decisions they make will influence lots of other teens across the nation.”The new program has been developing over the last several months.“We had our first meeting in August and have met at least monthly since then,” Hall said, adding the organization’s leadership training was held Nov. 17 at Santa Fe Community College and included youth leaders from all four towns.The local Leadership Team is comprised of Los Alamos High School students Brad Lungstrom, Matthew Flores, Seth Holsapple, Elise Dinehart, Erin Dinehart, Rob Lebrun, Thomas Lebrun, Benigno Sandoval, Darrel Beckman and Emily Tencate. Through the program, teens get an opportunity to develop new skills and make new friends in other towns.A joint meeting among the leadership teams from each town is planned for March.“My mom found out about this organization,” said LAHS sophomore Thomas LeBrun during a Caf Scientifique meeting Monday evening at UNM-LA. “It’s the leadership of this program and the training and learning new things that keeps me coming back.”
LAHS senior Elise Dinehart said she first heard last year in her AP Chemistry class that the program would be started this year. “It’s different,” she said. “It’s not like any other club where you go and talk with your friends. Your learn things here and it’s been a fun experience.”The 10 local teen leaders have been responsible for choosing their meeting topics, identifying follow up activities to speaker presentations, defining the kind of environment they want to create at each Caf meeting — open, inclusive, thought-provoking, energetic, and choosing their logos and other creative decisions. The youth leaders also handle all details of each meeting from introducing speakers, facilitating discussion, set up and clean up to videotaping and more, Hall said.“We are presently organizing Youth Leadership Teams in each of the four towns where we plan to hold Caf meetings,” Hall said. “The Youth Leadership Teams help choose speakers and plan activities. Any teen 14-18 is welcome to be on the leadership teams. We are hoping to appeal to a broad spectrum of teens who are just interested in their world.”Five speakers are set to give local presentations between January and May, Hall said, adding that topics will range from HIV vaccines to nanotechnology, climate change, the next-generation computers and the origin of the universe.In Los Alamos, the Bradbury Science Museum is set to host the first Caf Scientifique at 7 p.m. Jan. 24.The topic, “The Race for an HIV Vaccine” will ask teens to imagine a life in which 30 percent of adults have HIV, children are raising children because their parents have died, and the chance of living past 40 is very small. Without a vaccine, that is what teens in sub-Saharan Africa face today.The Jan. 24 presentation will explore the challenges to create a vaccine and provide the opportunity for teens to discuss options with other teens.Area teachers are invited to collaborate with the Caf to expand their classroom offerings, Hall said, adding that webcasts of Caf presentations can be used in the classroom to stimulate dialog and generate research questions. Teachers and their students also can register to join Caf blog discussions.Also, speakers and mentors interested in sharing their science with teenagers in northern New Mexico are encouraged to contact Science Education Solutions.Caf Scientifique does not make a profit from events or pay fees to speakers. The program’s partners include Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos Women in Science Math, Engineering and Science Excellence (MESA), University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Northern New Mexico College, Sandia National Laboratory, Santa Fe Community College.“Our partners contribute significantly to the program through their volunteer programs, providing venues for meetings and helping us connect with local young adults,” Hall said.Hall is a geophysicist who’s worked in both industry and academia. Her company promotes science and technology literacy. The company has program development and management expertise in scientist-teacher partnerships, curriculum development, K-16 teacher professional development and experience providing science research experiences for science teachers and undergraduate students.Hall handles all background work and oversees the leadership teams within the four towns. She explained Caf activities consume about half her time with other education projects filling the rest of it. Science Education Solutions is located at 4200 West Jemez Road, Suite 301, in the Los Alamos Research Park.For information, contact Hall at email@example.com, call 663-5365 or access www.scieds.com/cafe/.