FAST Chapter Leader Resources
Requirements for FAST Chapters
Below are the main features of a FAST program that we believe are core to achieving our mission as an organization.
Long-term support: FAST sessions occur over at least 4 months with a minimum of 6 sessions. All mentors and students meet and conduct work at joint sessions/meet-ups to foster community/exchange of ideas.
Student-driven: Projects are driven by students’ curiosities/passions and not limited to students’ prior knowledge/educational background.
Dedicated mentorship: Students receive dedicated, personalized guidance from a mentor/mentors on their project (not classroom-style instruction).
Intentionally empowering: The program serves student populations who receive outsized benefits from the opportunity (e.g. students from low-income backgrounds or from historically disenfranchised or underrepresented groups).
Community-centered: Students share their work with each other and/or the broader community at the end of each program year.
Inclusively Designed: The program is free for students, and designed to be accessible and welcoming to all students and mentors.
These are the only requirements necessary for FAST chapters, and your program can take on whatever shape, structure, and practices that you want as long as you meet the 6 qualifications above. In fact, we encourage you to build off of and experiment with this model to see what is most useful for your community!
Initial Chapter Start-up Guidance
In our experience, starting a FAST program requires 3 things:
A school that is in need of positive programming for a large number of students who lack the resources and opportunities of students at schools with wealthier demographics with more access to opportunities that foster life-long learning. Ideally, the school would also have a younger, more ambitious administration that could support our program administratively.
A charismatic, enthusiastic, in-school advocate (teacher) who can get students excited and to FAST every session. We have found success so far in science teachers with high reviews on ratemyteacher.com, but nowadays that site is defunct. You may have to go to the school to meet with administrators and ask a few students who the best teacher is before committing to run the program at the school and decide on a teacher lead.
Administrative support to have a pitch day during the school hours where all students are invited to learn about the program with cool examples of the kinds of projects they could do, open questions in science, and awesome engineering ideas. Then, for FAST sessions, you will need a space you can use for 5-6 hour time blocks every other week either during the weekend or after school for students to come, meet with mentors, and work on projects with adult supervision.
For example, to start a program in the East Bay of SF, we might start by assessing the public schools with a larger student population and a large percentage of students on free/reduced school lunch programs (a sign of youth poverty in America). Then we would reach out to administrator and ask to discuss the possibility of running a FAST program to deepen their STEM engagement among students, especially those most at risk. During that scheduled meeting, we would also request to meet with some students to discuss their interest in the idea and chat about which science teacher is the best, what kinds of projects they might be interested in, what snacks should we bring, etc.
Then we would discuss the meeting internally within the FAST chapter leadership, reach out to the recommended teachers, get their buy-in and feedback about how the program can best benefit their students, and ask if they’d be willing to volunteer to invite students/ come themselves to the program (VERY IMPORTANT STEP), and then move forward with that high school or try another.