During my time as BostonTechMom, I have had the great pleasure to interact with so many creative, industrious, and community-minded teens. A number of them have started their own STEM organizations, organized events, and worked with and mentored other students in STEM fields. It’s been one of my favorite things to learn about, and I am always happy to support their work and showcase their efforts. In this article I’ll describe some of the organizations and—I hope—inspire you to consider starting your own STEM organization.
Why create your own STEM student organization?
- You see a need or a gap that needs filling. You may have been disappointed that there wasn’t a particular STEM-related club, competition, event, or service in your school or town. You know other teens would participate if someone offered it, but so far no one has. That’s what business people call a market opportunity! You’ll get the satisfaction of identifying a need no one else recognized, and meeting it successfully.
- It’s an opportunity to give back and educate and inspire others. You have a particular skill or knowledge, or an enthusiasm and interest in a STEM area, that you’d like to share with other students.
- Building an organization from scratch gives you unparalleled entrepreneurial, marketing, and leadership experience, and helps you build skills you can use in many settings in the future.
- You’ll meet new people, make friends, and enjoy collaborating and working as a team. In other words, it’s fun and exciting!
- Although this shouldn’t be your primary motivation, it will look great on college applications. Need I say more?
- Your experience might open you up to different college and career avenues you hadn’t considered before.
Have an idea? The sky’s the limit! If you dream it, you can do it!
Start by picking a subject, topic, or cause you are passionate about. Next, figure out what kind of impact you want to have. If this sounds challenging, just imagine that you are looking back on the experience and saying to yourself, “I did it!” What was it that you did? What was the successful outcome you pulled off?
Your idea and outreach can be as broad or narrowly defined as you want. Is this something you want to do for your school, your town, your region, or even globally? In-person or online? Some students actually set up their own 501c(3) certified nonprofit organizations. Others create their club or group within the structure of an existing organization, like a school, library, or non-profit.
Next, find other students who share your vision and would like to work with you. Visit the websites of other student organizations to learn about what they are doing. Talk to lots of people—teachers and other adults as well as teens—about your idea and stay in touch with them as your idea evolves. Find an advisor or mentor who can provide guidance. They may become your most important supporters down the road. And don’t be surprised or disappointed if the organization you create is different from your initial vision. With input, new information, and ideas from others, it’s bound to change—for the better. In fact, it will probably be stronger and more implementable once you’ve incorporated all that market research into it!
[Do] not be afraid to reach out. Reaching out to communities, your peers, and connections for support is important, as more support brings greater impact, and thus greater outreach. Second, be open minded. Listen to your whole team and include team members without CS/coding experience. It’s crucial to have a diverse leadership team, as all our different perspectives and strengths contribute toward our mission.Charlotte Law, Inspire2Dev, CEO & Founder
Here are 5 examples of some possible directions you could go in.
1. Start an after-school club
Start a computer, robotics, math, or science club, then decide what topic you want to focus on and what you want to accomplish! Do you just want to meet and discuss topics? Or perhaps you want to work on a group project or compete in a competition. Starting a STEM club is probably the most common way teens create an organization, and possibly the easiest and quickest way to get started. And you don’t have to go it alone: there are plenty of resources and networks available to group founders. For instance, Hack Club is a great resource if you want to start a coding club. In another example, the STEM Education Club at Winchester High School created a STEM resources website filled with more than 30 STEAM lessons, activities, and videos to keep elementary school students entertained and engaged in learning.
2. Host a hackathon
Hackathons are popular among teens, so it’s not so surprising that some are created and run by students. Hackathon events are typically 1-2 days where teams of students come together and use technology to design and build something such as an app, a website, or a piece of hardware. Hackathons are also often a place where you can teach others (or learn) about topics in computer science and learn about computer science careers from guest speakers. Hackathons can be in-person events, but many others are online, allowing for greater participation and diversity of participants.
Hack3 and Inspire2Dev are two examples of hackathons organized by teens. Hack Club is a great resource if you’re looking to learn about hackathons, find a hackathon, publicize your own hackathon, or find sponsors and judges for the competitions.
3. Bring more attention to STEM topics
Are you interested in a particular subject? You could create a platform to bring more attention to a particular topic or topics. For example, Science and Us is a youth-led organization that introduces teens to science communication, media, policy, and related fields. Their goal is to help students understand and explain topics in any field, and empower them to break out of labels like “STEM person” and “humanities person.” They organize in-person marathon sessions where students create projects that explain technical topics to the public.
Another example is the National High School Journal of Science, a free, online, student-run and peer-reviewed research journal that has the aim of bringing science to a wider audience and engaging students in learning beyond the classroom walls. It publishes student research in the sciences as well as articles about new developments in the sciences.
4. Organize a conference, workshop, or webinar
Host an in-person conference, webinar, or simply a “day of learning” on a topic that interests you and others. For example, students from Phillips Exeter Academy founded the AI x Teens Summit to teach students about artificial intelligence. It includes distinguished speakers from all over the United States, and welcomes students with little or no knowledge about AI, particularly those who are underrepresented in the field. Another example is GirlCon, a free tech conference for high school students that is run by students. The annual event features breakout, professional development, and keynote sessions from numerous companies and backgrounds, giving attendees the opportunity to learn and make connections.
5. Teach and tutor students
Do you enjoy teaching others? You can create an educational organization like Genxl, a nonprofit foundation established in Massachusetts by a group of high schoolers determined to make an impact. They offer free online STEM courses worldwide for students from grades 3 to 8, focusing on underprivileged kids. Interested volunteers may create and instruct their very own STEM courses, along with being able to hold important leadership positions.
Where to go from here
I hope you’re as inspired by these examples of teen-founded and teen-run STEM community service organizations as I am! The combined influences of the internet and a genuine and growing interest in STEM are making it possible for these organizations to have a big reach and a big influence. Still, don’t feel you have to start off big. Sometimes being the best coffee shop on the block is better than trying to be the best coffee shop in the world. On the other hand, don’t limit your imagination to these ideas! If you have the seed of an idea, take some time to think about it and prepare yourself to talk about it with others, including some questions you might ask them and ways they might help.
Want to learn more about STEM volunteering and get ideas for yourself? Take a look at the related article 10 STEM Volunteering & Community Service Ideas for High School Students.
Think you might want to explore entrepreneurship and find out what it takes to start your own company? Read my article Think Like an Innovator! Exploring Entrepreneurship Before College and find a class, club, out-of-school program, or competition that might be right for you!