Stanford program helps develop next-generation STEM leaders through service

Student volunteers develop leadership and mentorship skills and the ability to communicate science to non-scientists.

Stanford students with a passion for education are helping science come alive for local youth from the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula, Ravenswood School District and La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District.

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Video by Kurt Hickman

Stanford’s Science in Service program brings together local youth with Stanford students to explore science.

Part of Stanford’s Cardinal Service initiative, Science in Service (SIS) creates spaces that allow young people to have rich and fulfilling experiences using science as a way of knowing. Projects include one-on-one pairing of Stanford students with community youth doing science activities, facilitating family science nights and collaborating on curriculum development based on current research.

Stanford students receive training and practice ongoing reflection in order to deeply engage in conversations about learning and equity in science education. Preparation workshops focus on science education, educational equity, teaching strategies and current education trends (including topics such as growth mindset, stereotype threat and next-generation science standards). Student volunteers develop leadership and mentorship skills, the ability to communicate science to non-scientists, a better understanding of local communities and a commitment to improving K-12 science education. As alumni, they go on to professions ranging from medicine to marine biology, education to environmental engineering.

“I’m constantly inspired by the Stanford students that join the Science in Service program,” said Sarah Koik, Haas Center for Public Service program director for science education. “Having worked in this field for over a decade, I find their long-term commitment and willingness to grapple with and grow in this work truly special. The students’ commitment, in combination with the partnerships and relationships we have built in the community, make Science in Service a unique opportunity.”

Said senior Sergio Rebeles, who joined Science in Service in 2014, “For me, Science in Service has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my Stanford experience. Living, eating, studying and sleeping in the infamous ‘bubble’ can make it easy to forget the power and privilege I interact with every day that I am here. Being able to leave every week to spend an hour with students from the sorts of communities that I grew up in keeps me grounded and reminds me that there’s more to life than ‘P sets’ and grades.”

More than 1,300 youth have participated in Science in Service since its inception in 2003. The program began when NASA made a grant to Stanford physics Professor Philip Scherrer, who was part of a consortium of researchers developing the Stanford Solar Dynamics Observatory to collect data about the sun. Partnerships with scientists remain a cornerstone of SIS, including a current collaboration on SIS curriculum development with Matthew Evans of the Carnegie Institution for Science in the Department of Plant Biology. Stanford scientists also present the latest research to mentors and mentees every quarter.

Community partnerships are another cornerstone of the program. The Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula has been a partner since 2003; the Ravenswood School District and La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District became partners in 2015.

Science in Service is one of five signature Education Partnerships programs run by Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service in collaboration with community organizations. The programs, grounded in education research by leading Stanford scholars, aim to advance educational equity at key moments in academic trajectories where children and youth may fall behind without additional support. They also help Stanford students enhance their understanding of curriculum development, teaching methods and broader policy and social issues affecting student performance. Last year, 224 Stanford students participated in Education Partnerships programs.

“We know that making a sustained service commitment profoundly affects our students’ academic and career paths,” said Deborah Stipek, Peter E. Haas Faculty Director of the Haas Center and Judy Koch Professor of Education in the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “Science in Service helps Stanford students see new possibilities in science education while it opens young people’s eyes to the joys of scientific discovery.”