By Janis Kupersmidt
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.
By Janis Kupersmidt
I recently had an opportunity to present to and participate in the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s ninth annual Urban Soccer Symposium in Washington, D.C.
The symposium is a three-day forum for national soccer coaches and program administrators to share best-practices for improving the field of sports-based youth development. I was honored to be part of a distinguished panel which discussed the role that sports-based youth development programs can play in bridging the mentorship gap and ways in which to leverage the role of a coach to provide youth with positive mentoring relationships.
In the United States alone, more than 35 million children between the ages of 8 and 19 participate in some form of youth sports. Another 5 million engage on an occasional basis, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association annual survey of households.
Youth coaches have a tremendous responsibility and opportunity to train young athletes through the drills that help hone their skills. More importantly, coaches also have the responsibility and opportunity to develop these players into not just great athletes, but healthier and more satisfied people, too.
Coaching relationships are based on shared interests and attend to the social, emotional, and physical needs of youth, elevating coaches and athletic administrators to prime mentor candidates, allowing them significant potential to meet and exceed the impact of traditional mentorships.
Every word uttered and every action taken by youth coaches can have a huge impact in the lives of these players, both positively and negatively. Athletes are constantly faced with moments of success and failure, and with calls from officials both good and bad. The words and actions of coaches in in these situations can stick with these players forever.
With proper mentoring from a coach, a young person can potentially absorb some of the most valuable life lessons on the athletic field. Youth coaches can exemplify the importance of hard work and what it takes to be a champion. They can teach about failure, and how to respond with resilience, grit, and an attitude that fuels a determination to succeed, gaining valuable self-confidence in the process.
The countless hours that youth spend with their sports coaches can have tremendous impact on youth during an impressionable phase of their lives. By observing and communicating with coaches, young people can be effected not only as an athlete, but as a career professional, adult, and contributing member of society.
One conclusion we can draw from the research on coaching and youth sports is that coaches shouldn’t be focused solely on winning and losing, and need to focus on the whole person while they also provide feedback on skills development. We need coaches who want to serve as change agents in the lives of youth by integrating a stronger mentoring perspective into the approaches that coaches take in working with youth. They have a tremendous potential to guide children, build their self-confidence, and ingrain positive values and sportsmanship, while also highlighting the importance of education, good sportsmanship, and physical fitness to get youth on an overall path to success in life.
The benefits of organized sports on youth can’t be ignored. Whether it’s preventing obesity, improving graduation rates, reducing the risks of youth violence or substance use, inspiring confidence and mental health, research shows sports positively affect all of these. Coaches may have winning on their minds, but it is those who nurture positive youth development that end up with players who succeed in life. In the end, although it may just be a game, the benefits of participation and of coaches approaching their job from a mentoring perspective are endless.
By Janis Kupersmidt
Successful youth mentoring relationships can provide fertile ground for teaching and learning, sharing and growing, renewing or establishing positive social benefits to the community and to the future. These pairings, however, also may bear the dynamic of power relationships, including the need to navigate confidentiality and its limits, and the responsibility to build an edifice of trust.
If not carefully addressed upfront, the inherent imbalance of power could lead to abuse in the mentor-mentee relationship. Typically, mentors have more knowledge, experience, and status, and in most cases are in a position of authority over the mentee. Even a mentor who is not very senior has a great deal of power relative to a mentee. The mentee has much to gain from the mentor’s support and advocacy, and fear of jeopardizing that support makes the relationship particularly imbalanced. Read the full article…