Celebrating STEM Day by Evaluating Mentor-Based STEM Programs

Posted by Richard Van Horn on November 13, 2018

National STEM Day was last week, and we took the opportunity to celebrate all the great STEM mentoring programs across the country. Whether a child is in kindergarten, fifth grade, or about to graduate high school, there’s a program designed to build their skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. But that raises an important question: what practices make a STEM mentoring program effective?

With the plethora of STEM programs available—the past few years have seen especially quick growth in STEM resources for youth in the U.S.—it’s important for STEM mentoring programs to be aware of the best practices they should follow. While the research on STEM mentoring programs has grown, there has not been a comprehensive, practitioner-friendly synthesis of that research to guide program practices. We teamed up with MENTOR, the nation’s leading youth mentoring advocacy organization, to create a STEM Supplement to the Elements of Effective Practice for Mentoring (4th Edition) that provides research-based recommendations for STEM mentoring programs in designing their program operations. The STEM Supplement is available for free right here, and covers everything from general design principles to specific methods of program evaluation. Although there are dozens of ways STEM programs can educate and nurture an interest in STEM among young people, we remain focused on the heart of mentoring —that is, the relationship between mentors and mentees.

For example, finding the right mentors for STEM programs is crucial for creating a sustainable and high-quality mentoring relationship. It may seem self-evident, but recruiting mentors who have a background in a STEM field—and especially those who are members of underrepresented groups such as STEM professionals who are women, have a disability, in a racial or ethnic minority group, or were a first generation college student, —facilitates the creation of role models for all mentees.

There are mentoring programs across the country using proven strategies to educate and encourage children to engage in STEM fields through a mentoring relationship, and innovative case studies about several of these programs are highlighted throughout this publication.

Whether it’s the Sea Research Foundation’s method of screening potential mentors, or how Genentech’s Futurelab keeps their program members engaged through responsive and focused communication, many STEM programs are on the cutting edge of STEM mentoring.

Having the proper tools for program development will allow STEM programs to rely on proven techniques, while simultaneously giving them the time they need to find their individual strengths.  Ultimately, we hope that the STEM Supplement will be an essential resource that mentoring programs will return to throughout their lifespan.