Mentoring STEM students is a fantastic way to not only improve matriculation rates but help those students succeed in their college endeavors. Of course, setting up a STEM career mentorship program is no easy task, but the rewards are invaluable.
STEM and Mentoring STEM Students: Are These A Natural Fit?
At its core, STEM teaches teamwork and creative problem-solving. Mentoring slots in nicely with those qualities. A good mentor/mentee relationship is one where both parties work together to solve a particular problem. These are the exact sort of challenges a STEM student will face in the future.
The difference between a mentor and a teacher is subtle (but important!). A teacher builds a relationship with a student based on knowledge. A mentor, on the other hand, builds a relationship based on experience. Hands-on experience is invaluable for STEM students – ask any engineer working today! They’ll probably tell you they learned more their first year on the job than their entire time in school.
A great mentor/mentee relationship helps students absorb some of the experience of their mentor.
Tip: Avoid making the mentor/mentee relationship all about work. Take the time to create friendships first – the work will come in time.
Choosing Great Mentors
A mentor must be able to provide guidance, expertise, and advice to their mentee. Getting the perfect match between mentor and mentee takes some doing – you need to ensure each pair shares broadly similar interests and have similar goals. The mentor needs to be someone who is in a position to provide the important, actionable guidance our students need.
When selecting mentors, passion is everything. Take some time to get to know your prospective mentors before bringing them on. As teachers, we have a knack for identifying when someone is passionate about helping others. The more inspired your mentors, the better the relationship with your students.
Finding STEM Mentors
Great STEM mentors are out there, but where can you can find them? Try a three-pronged approach: local businesses, local higher education institutions, and social media.
Finding mentors really can be as simple as picking up the phone. Local businesses – software development companies, engineering firms, construction companies, and so on – are a great place to begin. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, either; the local zoo, for example, will surely have someone eager to share their expertise in biological science.
As teachers, we love helping each other whenever possible. Put a call into your local university and see if anyone’s open to a mentor/mentee outreach program!
Lastly, embrace social media. LinkedIn, for example, is a great way to connect with successful, community-orientated leaders. If you’re feeling bold, perhaps consider pioneering a form of “digital mentorship” conducted entirely online.
Temper Your Expectations
It goes without saying, but not every mentor/mentee relationship will succeed. That’s okay – nothing is foolproof – and it is normal to have a few relationships not pan out.
In general, don’t try to rush into these relationships. It is possible, however, to encourage these relationships to grow. Warm-up activities, ice breakers, and team-building games work wonders to help mentors and mentees begin to form their initial relationship. It’s important to make mentoring STEM students about more than just STEM – students should work on their personal relationship with their mentor first. The actual STEM can come later!
Tip: Mentoring goes both ways. Passionate, inspired students can add value to their mentor’s lives and make the relationship that much more productive.
Practical Goals Work Wonders
Mentors are an excellent source of practical information. Practical goal-setting is something every mentor and mentee should do at the beginning of the relationship. These goals can (and should) vary depending on the unique challenges each mentee faces.
For example, mentors may want to work with their mentees by:
- Helping the mentee achieve specific grades
- Aiding the mentee in applying to specific colleges
- Advising on which major the student should pursue
By clearly setting goals at the start of the relationship, the mentor/mentee relationship becomes a practical, concrete entity with success that can be measured. That’s invaluable – students love actionable help – and the process of achieving these goals will help the mentor/mentee relationship succeed.
Tip: Scheduling regular mentor/mentee meetings on-site (if applicable to your program) is a great way to keep track of everyone’s progress.
Mentoring STEM Students
Organizing a STEM mentorship program is no easy task. By focusing on building relationships, setting practical goals, and choosing great mentors, your STEM mentorship program will start off on the right foot.