Maximizing connections to build participation and community support

ScienceQuest, Columbia, SC

This program was launched at the Fast Forward Community Technology Center in the summer of 2002 with only nine students and four adult coaches. To keep the program going, the staff knew they would have to sell the program.

In this case, sustainability wasn't about funding, but about interest.

The Challenge: Build Student Interest and Community Support to Ensure Sustainability

The Process

The key to this program's ability to gain and maintain popularity and support lies within the program director's policy of openness and her willingness to use the participants' enthusiasm. The ScienceQuest curriculum is driven by student interests, making the students natural spokespeople. Students are encouraged to share their excitement about the program with their peers in a variety of ways. They have ScienceQuest T-shirts to wear on ScienceQuest days. Students demonstrate their experiments not only for their science classes during the school day, but also for the local middle school's television show, The Principal's Corner. Parents receive a newsletter and are always invited to watch experiments, giving them the uncommon opportunity to observe their children in a learning environment. The program director invites teachers at the school to observe the program in order to gain their support, and asks the teachers to recommend participants. Furthermore, the program activities are public, so kids hanging around after school can watch the experiments being conducted by ScienceQuest participants, and get recruited to join the program.

In order to attract adult volunteers, Fast Forward developed a partnership with the University of South Carolina (USC). This partnership grew from a USC science professor's experience as a coach during the program's first year. The professor recruited more volunteers from the university and secured a way for the college students to earn credit for their time.

Finally, the program director actively seeks media coverage and makes regular presentations to the school board, guaranteeing that the wider community is aware of ScienceQuest and its positive effects on young people.

The Outcome

By enlisting the support of participants, teachers, parents and the community, Fast Forward has created support systems that will help ScienceQuest withstand a variety of changes, from program staff to the economy. However, the program's real ace in the hole is a deep connection with the surrounding community and schools. Within just two years, the program grew to more than 30 kids, with a waiting list to participate and a steady pool of volunteers. Former participants want to attend again, siblings and classmates want to join, and higher income parents are asking if they can pay for their children to attend.

Applying Fast Forward's Success to Your Program

Partnering with a larger, established institution - such as a university - can open the door to a variety of resources, including a large, steady group of volunteers; access to facilities; grant writing assistance; and enthusiastic spokespeople who can talk up the program to peers and increase community support.

To connect with a university or college, you can start by contacting the institution's community relations or public information office. They should be able to point you to resources in the institution that can help you find volunteers and other supports. It may take several calls before you find the right connection. To find other sources of volunteers in your community, contact a local Volunteer Bureau or Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Your United Way office may help find those community resources.

To find insights into using the media to promote your program, see our Media Tools.

About ScienceQuest and Fast Forward

The vision of the Fast Forward Community Technology Center in Columbia, South Carolina, is to build a learning and caring community through the creative use of technology. It seeks to provide technology education and access to those who have been underserved through traditional programs. Youth are chosen based on their need for the program either academically or socially, and on recommendations from teachers

In 2002 Fast Forward CTC launched ScienceQuest, a curriculum for teaching hands-on, investigative science to middle schoolers in afterschool settings. Using a tool called the I-search, they collectively formulated questions, conducted experiments and published their activities on a Web site.

Sources: Snow, Kate, "Sustainability: ScienceQuest in Columbia, SC," Community Technology Review Winter 2004-2005 issue,