The popular scientific outreach program widens its scope
Sponsored by NSF’s NOIRLab and open to all high school students, Teen Astronomy Café educational program is a no-cost initiative that aims to elevate achievement and desire to go to college, and inspire students to pursue STEM  careers.
The Teen Astronomy Café program offers high school students opportunities to interact with top-level astronomers, try the computer programs they use, and play with actual data from the cosmos. Exoplanets, the birth and death of stars, the structure of the universe, dark matter and gravitational lenses are among the topics covered on the Cafés, by means of short lectures and hands-on computer activities designed using Jupyter Notebooks.
The emergency caused by COVID-19 marked a breaking point for the program, as the development of the on-site Cafés had to stop and move to virtuality. An Enciso Systems’ team led by Juan-David Vargas worked hand in hand with project coordinators to create versions of the Teen Astronomy Café Notebooks that can be executed online using tools such as Google’s Colab and Binder, enters the e-Teen Astronomy Cafés.
e-Teen Astronomy Café Notebooks, and its auxiliary files, had to be adjusted to be self-contained and work completely online, with minimal user-intervention, ensuring that student experience is not hindered by any possible technical problems. This new phase of the program not only ensures its permanence during confinement times, but also allows the program to widen its scope and reach new potential students in other parts of the country, and the world.
“The Teen Astronomy Cafés in Tucson have brought high school students together with undergrads, graduate students and astronomers as role models to pathways toward STEM fields” says Connie Walker, a scientist at NOIRLab who specializes in education and public outreach and leads the Teen Astronomy Café program. “Students are provided with opportunities to experience science first hand, talking to astronomers and analyzing the same data astronomers do. Thinking about things they never thought possible. Engaging in intellectual challenges. And just maybe, getting inspired to pursue a STEM field. Now with the help of Enciso Systems, we can take the program beyond Tucson.”
“These programs have already had a positive influence on students in the Tucson area. The work that Enciso Systems has done enables us to bring the program to more sites nationally, and even internationally, with the potential to spur students around the world toward STEM careers.” adds Mark Newhouse, Manager of Arizona Education and Engagement at NOIRLab.
“Being involved in such an interesting project has been quite an adventure to me: having weekly meetings in English (not my mother tongue), where we had to discuss topics that went from the most specific technical issues to wider educational and student-experience related stuff, working with leading technology, and receiving insightful feedback from teachers, students, Connie and Mark, has helped me grow as a computer scientist, and potential teacher and communicator. I look forward to staying involved in the future development of the program” concludes Juan-David Vargas, lead developer.
Finally, Enciso Systems expects to replicate similar STEM experiences at the Llanos Orientales region to benefit local communities and expand the horizon of young talented participants. This is an extraordinary opportunity to embrace new challenges and take the youth to higher intellectual levels.
 STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics.
Enciso Systems is an information technology provider focused on preeminent scientific organizations around the globe. Its customer base spans from Europe, North America, and East Asia.
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