January is National Mentoring Month, when awareness to mentoring is brought to the general public and mentoring organizations are highlighted. Mentoring is critical component to a young person’s development. Mentoring provides children with positive, caring adults in their lives that can provide guidance as well as academic support. Children who have positive role models tend to excel while in school and do great things as adults.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is an area where our children don’t have enough positive mentors and role models. The academic achievement for K-12 students nationally in math and science are low even with all the resources in recent years being poured into math and science education. There are several reason for lack of achievement in math and science. One of the major reasons is there is no continuum of learning between classroom and home; so students don’t have enough outside of classroom learning experiences. Students aren’t engaged in enough hands on activities in these subject areas, therefore they don’t get fun learning experiences. Students learn better when they are having fun, plus hands on activities allow teachers to address all the learning styles of the students in their classrooms. However, school districts have constraints with their math and science curriculum. Therefore it is important that STEM professionals connect with our youth both inside and outside of the classroom to enhance the math and science educational experiences for our youth.
When STEM professionals, graduate and undergraduate students serve as mentors for youth by providing academic support it promotes academic achievement in math and science. The students get an opportunity to review content in a smaller group setting than in their classroom. Reviewing content either one on one or in a small group gives students an opportunity ask questions that they may not have an opportunity to or be afraid to ask in a larger setting. The mentor can provide another method for explaining a concept that can make it easier for the student to understand. Mentors can also give students strategies to improve their study and test preparation skills.
STEM professionals can find opportunities to mentor to provide academic support in math and science by volunteering directly at the schools. Educators are always happy to receive volunteers and don’t get enough volunteers that are able to provide assistance with math and science. Just contact the school, tell them your schedule and how you want to help and I’m sure they will welcome you into the school with open arms. If your schedule doesn’t permit you to volunteer during the school day, there are plenty of after-school programs hosted by community organizations that would love for you to provide support in these areas. They key is for you to connect with students and give them the confidence and skills to get them achieving in math and science.
The images that students have of what a STEM professional is, isn’t very positive. Most kids think that STEM professionals are old white men. K-12 students need to know that there are STEM professionals of all ages, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds. But most importantly, they need to see that pursuing a STEM career is a possibility for them by meeting someone that they can related to that is in the STEM disciplines. Therefore it is important for STEM professionals and K-12 students to connect. Most kids don’t even know that pursuing a STEM career is a option because they have never a STEM professional. We can’t create the pipeline for the future STEM workforce, if our youth don’t know about know about these careers. We have to make STEM more visible.
Mentoring as a form of career exploration can take place in any form that works for the mentor and the protege. Career exploration is simple exposing students to the career options that are available to them. The exploration involves defining the career, what a person in that career does and how they can pursue the career. The mentoring can take place in a one time setting such as a career fair or career day at a school or local community organization. It can take place in a setting where you bring children to your workplace for a tour. With older children it can take place by providing internship opportunities for youth at your workplace. The conversation can be one time or continuous, but children need to start learning about STEM careers and how to pursue them.