Give back with Youth Programs

Cincinnati Museum Center’s Youth Programs began in 1989 when two teens started volunteering in the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History & Science. Hundreds have gone through the program since then, developing the knowledge and confidence it takes to greet visitors, interpret exhibits and mentor others. An outstanding 99 percent of Youth Program graduates go on to enroll in a 4-year college, 80 percent receiving scholarships or financial aid.

Museum Center's Youth Programs are designed to enhance the creativity, confidence and success of its members. Through participation in workshops, field trips, college visits, volunteerism and other learning opportunities, participants in Youth Programs are well-prepared for success in high school, college and beyond.

Students may begin volunteering at age 13—well past the age of early childhood educational needs—and are trained to have an impact on Museum Center’s youngest visitors. Youth Programs participants are taught early childhood theory, developing and presenting educational demonstrations to the visitors. By training our students how to interact and teach our young visitors, Museum Center is excelling in its role as an “investor in community early childhood education.”

Youth Programs goals and successes

Academic success

Student academic success is the foundation of Cincinnati Museum Center's Youth Programs. While there are no grade requirements to be accepted into the programs, it is stated that each participant will be in good academic standing. Students must meet academic requirements to be accepted on many field experiences and to obtain a paid position in the programs. Through constant communication, Youth Programs staff is kept aware of each student’s academic achievements. While the staff often becomes aware of academic struggles from the student, staff is often made aware from speaking with the student’s parent or guardian. Maintaining positive relationships with the families of our students has allowed us to be a constant force in all areas of their lives.

Youth Programs academic success by the numbers
  • 100%: Participants who have graduated from high school
  • 99%: Participants who have enrolled in a four-year college (the other 1 percent have enrolled in technical school or military service)
  • 80%: Participants who have received some form of scholarship, several with full rides
  • Three: Participants named National Merit Scholars

The most influential resources for academic success we have in Youth Programs are the museums themselves. The students receive in-depth training in all areas of the museum, therefore supplementing—and often exceeding—the lessons and expectations in their classes. We have the unique opportunity of introducing students to leading professionals in science, history and child development. The exposure to these professionals and the constant support of Youth Programs staff clearly provide a setting for each youth’s academic success.

College preparation

One of the principal goals of Youth Programs is to encourage participants to seek admittance to an institution of higher education. Many of the programs' participants are first-generation college students. Youth Programs staff work with the youth to support and empower them to attend the college of their choice, despite cost, past grade record and any other obstacles. This dedication to higher education is reinforced through the work of the YouthALIVE! group at Cincinnati Museum Center which offers extra opportunities to develop work skills, explore career and college options, and improve academic achievement. Activities are open to all participants, but designed to address the unique needs of underserved youth, including those with financial, emotional and family-related issues.

In addition to the standard requirements of Youth Programs, YouthALIVE! participants attend additional workshops once a month. These workshops include college and scholarship essay writing, money management and budgeting, goal setting and cultural diversity discussions. Youth also participate in three day-long college campus visits, a spring break experience that visits at least four colleges in three days, and a week-long college and career expedition to a regional location during the summer. A student may visit anywhere from eight to ten colleges each year they are in the program. This works out to as many as 32 to 40 college visits before they graduate high school. These trips are offered at no cost to the student and all students are encouraged to attend.

Colleges attended by Youth Programs alumni

Berea College, Kenyon College, UCLA, Bowling Green State University, Muskingum College, UNC Charlotte, Case Western Reserve University, Northern Kentucky University, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati State College, Ohio University, University of Dayton, Culinary Arts School, Reed College, University of Michigan, Howard University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Wright State University, Indiana University, Stanford University, Xavier University, Kent State University, The Ohio State University, Kentucky State University and Tuskegee University.

Graduate from college and start a career

Career development does not end when students graduate from the programs. Each year, several alumni return to Museum Center to serve as Senior Mentors for Youth Programs. Senior Mentors assist Youth Programs professional staff during the summer. Their primary role is to interact with youth at the museum and to provide peer support for their presentations and demonstrations. In addition to returning to assist Youth Programs, several alumni have returned to Museum Center in other roles—from museum floor specialists and outreach presenters to museum coordinators and Youth Programs coordinators.

Profile: Sara Stigler

Sara Stigler is a Youth Programs graduate who volunteered in the Museum of Natural History & Science from 1998-2003. After the program, she completed her undergraduate degree in biology and then went on to earn her masters in health administration. Stigler is currently a medical student at the University of Cincinnati and a member of the Ohio National Guard.


What's your most memorable experience with Youth Programs?

"I was 12 when I started the Program, and we’ve done so many incredible things over the years. From staying overnight in the Museum, to caving, to training for new exhibits, it’s always been a blast. I can’t choose just one!"

What have you learned as a Youth Programs volunteer?

"I never thought about mentorship before joining the Youth Programs. But after having a mentor, I became one for the younger girls going through the Program. I’ve made some lifelong friends. It’s nice—we’re like a big family here."

Why is it important to give back?

"People who achieve their dreams should give back to others because no one becomes successful without a little help. I didn’t. I wouldn’t be in medical school if I didn’t have the help. I make it a point to return the favor to those who have served as mentors to me."

History at a glance

1989: Established with two students at Cincinnati Museum of Natural History.

1993: Establishment of the YouthALIVE! program; focus turns from youth volunteer program to youth development program.

1998: Expanded into The Children’s Museum.

2000: Introduced into Cincinnati History Museum.

2001: Reached a participant level of 150 students per year; renamed from the "Lab Rat" Program to Cincinnati Museum Center Youth Programs.

2005: Received “Best Place to Work Out Teenage Angst” award in the Best of Cincinnati edition of Cincinnati CityBeat.

2006: Reached an alumni level of more than 1,500 students.

2014: Celebrated 25th anniversary.

Youth Programs was financially assisted by the Stillson Foundation, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee

For more information, please contact Youth Programs at

Application Information