Youth Astronomy Apprenticeship

Apply online to join the Youth Astronomy Apprenticeship HERE!

What is YAA?

The Youth Astronomy Apprenticeship (YAA) is an out-of-school time (OST) initiative to foster science learning among urban teenage youth (ages 15-19) and their communities. The goal of YAA is to broaden the awareness that to engage in science learning is an effective way to promote overall youth development and to prepare for competitive professional opportunities. YAA is a program by the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research in collaboration with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and the Timothy Smith Network. It was originally funded though a NSF Informal Science Education grant (DRL-0610350).

At YAA we understand that for science learning to have a lasting impact on the life of a teenage youth, it has to be integrated with the youth’s personal development process and it has to be fully owned by the learner. The main impact for YAA is to empower teens to develop new science understanding as they develop personal and interpersonal skills needed to fully participate in the life of our society.

Click here for a page of resources relating to the YAA program.

Stage 1: After-School Program

In the after-school program, youth engage in astronomy investigations, take astronomical images using the MicroObservatory online telescope network, learn to process astronomical images, and produce reports and presentations about their investigations. During the period 2007-2009, YAA recruited 178 youth (49% boys and 51% girls) with a retention rate of 54%. Community partners that hosted YAA after-school programs over that period: Roxbury Multi-Service Center, Inc., Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, Dimock Community Health Center, Tobin/Mission Hill Community Center, Upward Bound Program at the Roxbury Community College, Hispanic Office of Planning and Evaluation (HOPE), Vine Street Community Center, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA).

Watch a video about the program here.

Stage 2: Summer Apprenticeship Program

In the YAA model, equal effort is put in pursing science learning for academic enrichment and in stressing the link between employable skills and the skills developed in science and other professional fields – such as the performing arts and museum exhibit development. This approach allows us to reach out to older youth from underserved groups in a way that both satisfies their interests and meets their needs.

During the summer apprenticeship program, youth participate in paid positions, working with scientists and science educators from MIT and Harvard; the Underground Railway Theater; Jeff Kennedy Associates, a museum exhibition design and planning company; and ThinkCollaborative, a local marketing and advertising company.

YAA apprentices have designed and facilitated activities to introduce a lay audience to the use of telescopes, created components for a professional museum exhibit on black holes, produced and performed science/astronomy plays, and created planetarium shows they perform using a portable planetarium. Some continue on to participate in community outreach events, where youth present their science/astronomy performances as science ambassadors at community events across the city.

Stage 3: Youth Assistant and Intern Program: Youth as Agents of Change

A key strategy adopted in the YAA model is to provide continuity of support and mentoring, and opportunities for deeper learning and increased personal responsibilities: YAA youth start as unpaid trainees, transition to paid apprentices, then to teaching assistants, and some of them eventually land internship positions at the MIT Kavli Institute.

Watch a video about some of the YAA Interns here.

As urban teenagers, YAA participants are able to communicate to their peers – and other members of their communities – a message about the value of science literacy that is much more effective than the traditional science outreach establishment could provide. YAA specifically fosters the role of urban youth as science ambassadors and as advocates for increased opportunities for science learning for communities underrepresented in STEM. Data from the program’s summative evaluation illustrates the increased impact YAA had on participants’ perceptions of being an advocate for science: as youth progressed through the program year and as they continued to increase in responsibilities across multiple years, the stronger their self- perceptions were of being advocates for science.

Example of Positive Impact

The YAA's impact on urban youth can be transformative as exemplified by the case of Heleno. He and his family moved to Boston from Cape Verde five years ago. When Heleno joined YAA in 2007, he had very basic computer skills but a great interest in science. He attended the after-school program, became a YAA apprentice, and then served as a YAA assistant. His communication and critical thinking skills improved greatly as he developed a passion for astronomy and even joined a local amateur astronomers club. Under the mentorship of the director of YAA, Heleno created an astronomy project for the 2007–08 science fair. In May 2008, he won one of the Massachusetts State Science Fair first prizes, the Apollo Award awarded by the Massachusetts Space Grant and a $20,000 scholarship for University of Massachusetts Amherst. Heleno is not alone in his success; other YAA students have won science fair awards and scholarships to college.

For more information on the Youth Astronomy Apprenticeship, contact Irene Porro, Director, at or 617 258 7481.

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