Lots of teens volunteer or do community service, and increasingly students are looking for opportunities to volunteer within the STEM fields. If you’re thinking about volunteering but aren’t sure what you want to do, take a look at the related article 10 STEM Volunteering & Community Service Ideas for High School Students.
How to find STEM volunteer opportunities
Once you have an idea of what kind of STEM volunteer work you’d like to do, read on to start exploring the possibilities in your community! Here are some good places to start as you research community service and volunteer opportunities.
- A great place to start is at your own high school, particularly the community service clubs. If your school runs a community service program, ask the coordinator if there are STEM-related volunteer activities. If your school has a chapter of the National Honor Society, talk to the faculty advisor about community service, even if you’re not a member. And don’t stop there! Talk with your science and math teachers and guidance counselors to see if they are aware of opportunities as well, or will help you create one.
- Find out if your elementary and middle schools’ after-school enrichment programs run STEM programs like coding clubs, LEGO leagues, and robotics programs. Ask if you can be a student assistant.
- Use your knowledge to tutor other students in science, math, engineering, or coding. You might be able to do this through your school, a local Boys & Girls Club, the YMCA or another similar organization, or the library. Or you might simply advertise your tutoring services on your own.
- Use your coding experience to mentor other students. In particular, reach out to your local Girls Who Code Club and volunteer as a “Teaching Assistant” or take on other leadership roles within the club.
- Contact your local library: if they run STEM programs, see if you can assist. Many libraries start planning their summer program activities for children in the late winter and may be glad to line up summer volunteer assistance well before the summer. Also, ask if they offer IT training classes or technical assistance to adults and if there might be a role for a student volunteer.
- Talk with the public library’s reference librarian. Ask if they can help you find volunteer opportunities in your community, not just at the library.
- Check out local STEM summer camps. A growing collection of summer programs and camps focus on STEM activities and training for kids. Some are offered by colleges and universities, while others are independent. Contact the ones that appeal to you and see if they could use a student volunteer assistant. It could turn into a future paying summer job, and in the meantime, you could learn new skills and share your enthusiasm about STEM with younger kids.
- Similarly, check out local city summer recreation programs, school camps, and non-profit camps to see if they have STEM programming in the area that interests you, and see if you can act as a student volunteer assistant. Contact your local YMCA. Some Y’s run summer STEM programs; others run programs during the school year that might welcome a volunteer assistant. Consider volunteering with the National Inventors Hall of Fame’s STEM Leadership Intern summer program.
- Spend your summer in a university research lab or in one of the U.S. Army Research Laboratories and Centers through the AEOP High School Apprenticeship program.
- Many hospitals offer student volunteer programs that introduce teens to different aspects of healthcare, like this Junior Volunteer Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
- Science centers and museums, aquariums, and history or natural history museums and living history sites may have ongoing or one-time volunteer opportunities for students. You might help with children’s programs, assist naturalists or docents, or help restore a historic building!
- Local trail associations and conservancies, state parks, and national parks need volunteers to help with trail maintenance, guiding visitors, running special programs, and doing research projects (for example, see Volunteer.gov for many exciting opportunities).
Approach organizations directly!
While there are a lot of volunteering opportunities open to students, ones in the STEM fields might not always be readily apparent. Be prepared to get creative and take initiative in finding them. If you’re told that there isn’t a volunteer program established, plan to describe how you might benefit the organization by volunteering, or even make a proposal—you may be pleasantly surprised at the response.
A slightly different approach is to offer your services to an organization you care about. For example, perhaps you are interested in the environment and conservation. Outdoor organizations like parks and land preserves have volunteer activities (for example, the Walden Woods Project in MA). Or if you are interested in engineering, design, and architecture, you might contact Habitat for Humanity to ask if they offer youth opportunities in your area.
If you’ve exhausted all those options and are still in search of a community service or STEM-related volunteer opportunity, there are some platforms that list all kinds of volunteer opportunities, including STEM activities. There are even some virtual opportunities!
- DoSomething.org is a youth-led movement organization. Search the digital platform for a cause you care about and choose a campaign. There are all kinds of opportunities, not all STEM-related, but there are education and environmental causes where you could channel your STEM skills and interest.
- VolunteerMatch pairs volunteers with opportunities across many fields and interests.
As technology continues to touch all aspects of our lives and work, the possibilities for STEM volunteering are growing exponentially. However, organizations may not yet be thinking about how they might tap the vast potential of teen volunteers. Don’t be afraid to suggest your ideas about how you might contribute your time and talents!