Adding “Social” Science to the “S” in #STEM

As a Community Psychologist in training I have always been slightly bothered by the term “soft science” being used to describe people centered research. More recently I have begun to think about how social science is often neglected to be recognized as an important part of STEM. However, isn’t the core of this acronym focused on bettering the lives of mankind?! I think this notion is particularly important when introducing youth to STEM. It is crucial that they know that if they are to pursue “S” (Science) that it is okay to choose a translational path that prioritizes directly addressing the needs of their communities.

So today I declare that I will dedicate myself to shedding light on the social side of science! Now all I need is a fancy #hashtag!

Hashtag Ideas:




-Stay Tuned!


Teens, Tech, Ethics & Debate

“STEM”, “Code” and “Innovation” these are buzz words that have been thrown around freely with regards to tech education initiatives for youth. Schools and afterschool programs are encouraged to immerse young people in digital everything. However as they are being groomed as future leaders in STEM we cannot forget to talk with youth about the power they wield as innovators.

Periodically I am asked to teach class for our digital literacy program. I always really enjoy getting the opportunity to engage with our students because my goal is to both challenge and empower them. So I decided to have a discussion with them about the importance of considering the ethics of technological innovation. The presentation Technology & Ethics Debate centered on the students:

  • Defining & understanding the concept of ethics
  • Applying an ethical lens to their perspectives on technological innovation
  • Discussing both the negative and positive impact of modern technology
  • Debating ethics of the “CopWatch” App (Learn more about it here)

CopWatch App

For the debate I divided students into two teams. Group one took the position of the local police department (not in support of the app), argued potential negative impact on police-citizen relations, and argued that police should control the information recorded by the app. Group two took the position of the citizens (in support of the app), argued the potential positive impact on police-citizen relations, and argued that citizens should control the information recorded by the app. They were given 1 minute arguments and 30 second rebuttals for each each point of discussion. Once the floor was open they excitedly debated each other and even carried the conversation all the way out of the classroom when it was time to wrap up!

It is not often that we ask students what they think or to educate us. In a classroom with a diverse set of personalities including quiet, disruptive, and outspoken students it appeared that everyone was eager to be heard that day. So what did I learn? A few things:

1. Young people love the question “Why?”

2. Youth know more about the world than we give them credit for

3. Debate is a very useful and engaging teaching tool

4. It is important that youth learn difference between “arguing” & “debate”

As we move forward in this EduTech revolution it is important to remember that we do so with activities that promote raising critical awareness. It is easy for educators and institutions alike to become solely consumed with exposing youth to technology without also building a rapport with them about the impact of innovation. The principles of ethics should be an integral part of all EduTech curricula.  Doing so will ensure that we are cultivating a future cohort of conscious creators!

Stay Tuned!

Youth & Social Media: Moving Beyond Recreation

Working with a Digital Literacy program for youth has provided me a window to observe the ways in which youth utilize (or don’t) use social technologies. What I have found is that they are quite savvy with social media however their perceptions of its potential and social utility are narrow.  In other words,  teens tend to use social media primarily for recreation which includes posting pictures, sharing funny content and stream of consciousness updates about their lives. As an advocate of youth empowerment I had been trying to find ways to incorporate social media as a tool for civic engagement . Working with youth in different arenas I have seen first hand that they often underestimate their power as citizens. Likely because they are unsure of how to initiate creating a dialogue about social issues that matter to them. So when I was offered opportunities to create workshops around social media I saw this as a perfect opportunity to encourage them to re-envision their perceptions of  the capacity of social media. I was given the privilege to facilitate two workshops for the Community Services Department:

Workshop 1-Using Social Media and Technology to Build Your Professional Network.

Event: “Life After Raleigh Summer Youth Employee” Training

This young lady approached me, after the workshop on using social media to enhance professional networks, to say that she was inspired by me and the presentation!

This young lady approached me, after the workshop to say that she was inspired by me and the presentation!

Presentation Objectives:

  • Discuss basic professional networking essentials
  • Provide tips on maintaining a “Positive Digital Footprint”
  • Show examples of youth using social media to make a meaningful impact
  • Share resources that will help them create a digital portfolio for their “Professional Digital Footprint”

Workshop 2-Youth Voices: Community and Civic Engagement through Technology-Workshop Description

Event: 10th Annual Raleigh Neighborhood Exchange

I am working with one my former youth employees to facilitate the workshop.

Working with one of my awesome former youth employees to facilitate the workshop.

Presentation Objectives:

  • Discuss the value of traditional/social technologies
  • Share examples of youth driven initiatives
  • Encourage discussion around social issues
  • Empower them to see their potential as social innovators
  • Create an interactive activity centered on technology and social good

Overall take home message?

Through these sessions I found that youth:

  • Want to be actively engaged and want to be heard but often don’t know how to start
  • Are more confident in their “power”  and potential when given the resources
  • Feel empowered simply by seeing their peers use social/traditional technology for good
  • See the link between community and technology but are still learning how ta tap into that connection

What the workshops have taught me is that:

  • Interactive activities are important in maintaining interest
  • Guided discussion throughout encourages reflection
  • Relatable examples makes the information more seem realistic and the possibility of creating change more feasible
  • Always provide the resources discussed to give youth time to explore