Chief Science Officers: A Strategy for Student Awareness and Industry Engagement
The Chief Science Officers (CSO) program empowers youth in STEM by providing access and workforce skills training to prepare them for the future.
This Innovative Technology Experience for Teachers and Students project provides a model for increasing student interest in STEM careers and active engagement of business and industry partners with grade 6-12 aged youth in Arizona. The Chief Science Officers (CSO) program expands on the student government model to select one or several youth at participating middle or high school who champion STEM interest, engagement and communication. On campus, CSOs identify and lead STEM opportunities such as speakers, field trips, and science nights, and other activities. Off campus, CSOs function as the point person for school and community initiatives in STEM; present to local, state and federal stakeholders on the CSO program and its impacts; and participate in community forums around STEM topics. Key deliverables include CSO training, peer-to-peer mentoring, media materials/guides, and on-going community programming.
The program has grown significantly. From 138 CSOs in 2015-2016 from one state (AZ) to 884 CSOs in 2019-2020 from 10 states ( AZ, DE, FL, GA, MI, NJ, NY, OR, PA, and TX) and four countries (USA, Kuwait, Kenya, and Mexico). To facilitate this growth and effective implementaton across divergent locales and populations, fidelity criteria (process, procedures, and protocols), tools (IT, communication, data collection), and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are continually being developed and revised. Outcomes such as CSO STEM identity, STEM career interest, leadership and workforce skills development, and increased STEM awareness and interest for peers and community members, among others, are tracked and evaluated.
Research and evaluation are providing insights into how the investment in a small and select group of youth can achieve measurable results for a much larger population of students and communities. Key research questions are: Does the presence of a CSO within a school significantly raise interest in STEM among the general student body? Does the active cohort of CSOs within a community increase participation of businesses and industries? Outcomes are being measured using a quasi-experimental, pre-post design with a treatment (participating schools) and control (non-participating schools) groups.
For example, focus groups with CSOs and their advisors have demonstrated that all CSOs are finding the required Leadership Training Institute (LTI) helpful with 30% of CSOs stating that nothing was 'least' or 'not helpful'. At the LTIs, students learn what it means to be a CSO, e.g., their roles and responsiblities, and gain then knowledge, tools and workforce skills (critical thinking, teamwork, event planning, networking, etc.) to be successful. CSOs also develop an "action plan" for the coming year. Fifty-five percent (55%) of CSOs report that discussing STEM event ideas and talking with CSOs were the most helpful aspects of the training.
Importantly, CSOs (100%) stated that their leadership skills improved. Responses ranged from personal changes from being quiet, shy or not speaking up to being more outgoing, comfortable, confident, and asking more questions. CSOs also report that they can effectively work in groups and listen to everyone's ideas. When asked if they felt they had influence on changing things in their schools and/or communities, 95% believed that they could speak up and affect these environments. The other 5% shared that they haven't really thought about that.
All CSOs (100%) said that they had learned about new STEM careers. Many shared examples of STEM professionals they had met (44%) or what they had learned (44%). CSOs are expected to host a STEM event during the academic year as part of their action plan. These events are intended to inform their peers and community members about STEM and STEM careers. The most common activities were hands-on learning opportunites, such as a schoolwide STEM night (40%) and STEM events for specific grade levels (25%). Other events included presentations and/or announcements (17%), STEM/STEAM clubs (8%), and video projects (8%). Community events include public library (8%) and community park (8%) activities.
The program has responded to the current Covid-19 situation by enabling CSOs to engage more actively online. For instance, the program team instituted "Zoom in on Science" calls with STEM professionals and led by CSOs. This has provided the opportunity for CSOs to continue to learn about STEM career opportunities and practice their leadership skills. You can hear more about what CSOs are doing from the CSOs themselves on the Chief Science Officer YouTube channel - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCICd9furVxIUfqjEET53NOg/videos