The Chief Science Office Experience: Advocates for Student Voice and Innovation in Communities
By: CSO participant Arturo
The Chief Science Officers (CSO) program is the first of its kind where 6th to 12th-grade students are chosen to be their school community's liaison for STEM and innovation. The CSO becomes part of a cadre of student leaders who experience special leadership training, impact STEM opportunities at their school and the local community, and work as a collective cabinet to give input and ideas to adult STEM leaders in the region. The CSO program was initiated in 2015 by the Arizona-based SciTech Institute and brought to San Antonio in 2018 by the Alamo STEM Ecosystem, and led by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA). The program now exists in countries from Kuwait to Mexico.
During the 2018-19 school year, the CSO program launched its expansion into the Texas region. At this time, I was a freshman at Southwest High School searching for my niche. Why my biology teacher had presented the opportunity to my class, I realized that this was an opportunity I shouldn’t miss.
Attending the Leadership Training Institute, I had trouble understanding what exactly the program was about. Initially, I expected the universal STEM experience to be research, study, and scholarship, but throughout the training sessions, my previous understanding of STEM was challenged. The Chief Science Officer program had taught me about what STEM means outside of the classroom. Beyond beakers and chemicals, STEM is a field of leadership and community. Leadership, a central element to the CSO program, provides organization and guidance, necessary qualities in any modern-day career, especially in the complex networks of the STEM workforce. Community, the second fundamental pillar of the CSO program, establishes a diverse network associated with the STEM field, providing students with adequate resources, opportunities, and necessary knowledge to pursue their STEM passion.
As a Chief Science Officer, students must complete action plans that align with the program goals and further its mission. As a new CSO, I began small, inviting a few speakers from colleges and local companies to speak with students. Although I wanted to expand the program within my school, I had transferred, forcing me to restart my progress. Firstly, I took the initiative to start the program at my new school, setting up the foundation for developing a community of like-minded individuals in a school that lacked any similar opportunities. I started small in regards to my action plans, bringing in guest speakers, providing students resources/opportunities, and creating an online STEM directory for students. I then realized I need to do something bigger to leave a greater impact on students. Considering this, I founded the school’s first-ever STEM club, focused on student leadership and community engagement. Without the support of the CSO program, I more than likely wouldn’t have had the knowledge or ability to take such initiative.
Working so closely with IDRA in the CSO program, I was presented with the opportunity to Intern with them over the summer. As an IDRA intern, I was able to help further develop the CSO program amidst the ongoing pandemic. I assisted in the planning of our annual Leadership Training Institute, developing our social media presence, recording our podcast, and building a curriculum for at-home STEM learning. The experience was an unparalleled opportunity made available by joining the CSO program.
Today, I am on the Texas Leadership Council for the CSO program, pursuing the providence of similar opportunities to students across Texas. Undoubtedly, the program has provided me with an unmatched experience unlike any other program out there. My current internship at SAMSAT is thanks to the networking experience provided by the CSO program.
The future of the CSO program in Texas looks promising. Although the program has had hiccups due to unusual times during the pandemic, the CSO program is welcoming more and more Chief Science Officers from across the region. With support from the SciTech Institute and the Alamo STEM Ecosystem, IDRA will continue to train CSOs, not only providing an abundance of opportunities to CSOs, but also training them to spread those opportunities among their community.
If you are a 6-12th grade student and are interested in the CSOs program, visit chiefscienceofficers.org for more information on how to get started.