Teen Science Cafe: Not Your Average Classroom

As the name suggests, this isn’t your average classroom lecture. There are no tests, quizzes, or monologues. In fact, there aren’t even grades or report cards. But, there are students focused on learning and soaking in as much information as possible regardless, of a grade.

The Teen Science Café has become a hub for students to learn about topics in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) through an informal and fun environment. Whether is studying soil to understand climate change or using zombies to explain neuroscience, Teen Science Café offers an interactive, collaborative, and social atmosphere that brings together teenagers from various backgrounds to learn in an engaging atmosphere.

Invest in STEM by Investing in Students

Along with the bright students participating in the program, what makes this program special are the volunteers who offer their time and expertise to create interactive and thought-provoking lessons during each session. At a recent Teen Science Café event, Rudy Fuentes, Head of US Regulatory Affairs at PSI CRO, was able to witness the impact of the program while discussing topics in clinical research, and sharing his professional journey with the students. 

"I was excited to provide a brief glimpse on my background and career achievements as an inspiration that anything is possible. More importantly, after interacting with various students at meetings and conferences, I am confident that these students will make tremendous contributions to the STEM fields." - Rudy Fuentes, Head of Regulatory Affairs, US

As he stood on a bright wooden stage, Rudy walked through his STEM journey with the attentive teens in the audience. From fleeing a war-stricken country at the age of ten to receiving his Ph.D. from an Ivy League University (University of Pennsylvania), Rudy’s incredible story was anything from typical.

We take different paths to get to our career destination, and it’s important for students to realize that those paths exist for different reasons, but in the end, they can lead to great success. Students need to be aware that the hardships experienced due to their background can serve as motivators for a successful career and contributions for the betterment of society.” –Rudy Fuentes, Head of Regulatory Affairs US

To Rudy, it was important to shine a light not just on career paths, but on STEM career paths in particular. A curriculum that often requires intense and lengthy educational processes, research fellowships, and more, it’s not always a linear equation. “A STEM curriculum can be challenging, and students need to be aware of those challenges before embarking in any of the four disciplines. But if they are committed and willing to face some adversities, they can be very successful in their careers.” –Rudy Fuentes, Head of Regulatory US

Amid Rudy’s lesson, the sound of slurping and crinkling snack wrappers subsided to an almost halt. It was evident what these students truly craved—someone who did the seemingly impossible, showing them what’s on the other side of working hard and dreaming big.

The Road to a STEM Career is Yours to Create

Misconceptions on pursuing STEM careers are very high, and most teens believe that a career in STEM is unattainable so they don’t bother trying. Whether it’s due to socioeconomic background or lack of awareness, students struggle to understand how to become a STEM professional. In fact, the percentage of boys interested in STEM from 2017 to 2018 dropped from 36 percent to 24 percent. The percentage for teenage girls stayed at a low 11%.  

This may be surprising to some since STEM education is a hot topic, but that’s all it’s become—a topic.

The Value of STEM Role Models

Students need to see examples of professionals who have become successful in similar fields without going the traditional route. Rudy, someone who has had his fair share of adversity, debunked many of their fears, such as the need for a Ph.D. or extensive medical background.

When the time came for questions, multiple inquiries were made on the various routes to take early on for a career in a Clinical Research Organization like PSI-CRO.  “In sharing my background, I hope to convey a message that there are various options when completing a STEM curriculum. These include careers in clinical research such as Medical Directors, Clinical Research Associates, and Data Managers, just to name a few,” says Fuentes. And maybe one day, a student will feel the same way, too.

Through programs like Teen Science Café, PSI is proud to support the future leaders of STEM education. The field of clinical research will always need bright new minds to help fuel the creation, testing, and approval of tomorrow’s most effective treatments for diseases.