NSF to Support Terrascope Youth Radio, a Teen Outreach Program

By Ari Epstein, Lecturer, Earth Systems Initiative

With support from the National Science Foundation, and in collaboration with the City of Cambridge Youth Programs and the Cambridge Public School District, MIT’s Terrascope program is launching Terrascope Youth Radio, a new outreach program for local teens. In Terrascope Youth Radio, urban teens will develop, report, write, produce and host a radio program on topics having to do with environmental and Earth-system science and engineering. The primary goals are: to reach other urban teens with science/engineering stories in a format that they see as relevant, interesting and important; and to instill in participants a sense of empowerment and excitement, both about their skill as communicators and about their knowledge of environmental and Earth-system topics.

MIT students who have participated in the Terrascope freshman learning community will serve as mentors to the teen participants, and faculty from MIT’s Earth System Initiative will also assist, both in developing story ideas and in ensuring the accuracy of the final programs. The Principal Investigator for the project is Professor Rafael Bras, currently the Director of Terrascope, and Dr. Ari Epstein, also from Terrascope, will direct much of the project’s regular operation.

Broadcast and podcast partners include NPR’s popular Science Friday program, as well as Pacifica Radio, a national network of roughly 90 college and community radio stations. Programs will be distributed to public radio stations nationwide via the Public Radio Exchange. Terrascope Youth Radio will also be collaborating directly with a number of other youth-radio programs across the U.S., in an effort to help those groups find ways to include environmental/science topics in their own programming. In addition, the program’s teen participants will themselves conduct outreach activities in the city’s youth centers and summer camps, directly affecting roughly 900-1,000 local youth over the project’s first three years.

The project’s impact on listeners, teen participants and members of other youth-radio programs will be assessed extensively by the Goodman Research Group, an independent local firm with broad experience in evaluating youth-oriented public-broadcasting programs. Results from the assessment will be used not only to guide further development of Terrascope Youth Radio, but also to assist other youth-radio programs—many of which do not conduct significant quantitative assessment—as they seek ways to evaluate and improve their own impact on listeners and participants. In the long term, Terrascope Youth Radio may also demonstrate a new model by which universities can become engaged in local youth communities while simultaneously broadening the impact of work done by their own researchers.