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Pacific Science Center’s STEM program turns teens into instructors.

Michaela Leung was a 14-year-old Bainbridge Island freshman when she applied to the Pacific Science Center’s STEM program for teens. Then she heard about the in-person interview: “Oh my god, this is going to involve talking to people?”

And how. Discovery Corps members start as volunteers working the floor; fellow DC member Wesley George recalls the dreaded Pocket Science duty: approaching visitors with pocket-size items to instigate discussions of scientific principles. “That was a lot for little freshman me.” As members transition to paid interpreter roles—answering questions at the tide-pool exhibit or explaining satellites to visiting third graders—all that talking becomes less scary and produces some poised, empowered budding scientists.

Discovery Corps is open to all area high schoolers, but staff actively approaches groups underrepresented in scientific fields. Of the current crop of 55 members, 58 percent identify as female, more than half speak a language other than English at home, and 55 percent participate in free or reduced school lunch programs. 

Leung, now 17, did two paid summer internships through the corps, researching climate change’s impact on stream levels at the University of Washington, and organizing science center events around last August’s solar eclipse. In 2017 she, George, and fellow DC member Daniel Piacitelli applied their newfound professional skills to something big: solar panels for the science center’s roof. The teens spoke with manufacturers to gauge cost and feasibility, and they worked with PacSci staff to apply for a Seattle City Light sustainability grant. The utility awarded the full $164,851 requested.

Solar panels will be installed later this summer, around the time Leung, George, and Piacitelli graduate from Discovery Corps (they’ll all be at UW come fall). It’s unlikely that reducing the science center’s carbon footprint will be the last time they change the world.

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