Mentoring Central Shares STEM Mentoring Research at 2024 National Mentoring Summit

Posted by eporter on February 27, 2024

Mentoring Central Shares STEM Mentoring Research at 2024 National Mentoring Summit

Mentoring Central Researchers Dr. Katie Stump, Dr. Rebecca Stelter, and Yontii Wheeler co-led an interactive workshop at the 2024 National Mentoring Summit in Washington, DC, last month. Each year, mentoring professionals and advocates from across the nation gather for the annual National Mentoring Summit, convened by MENTOR, to share best practices, reflect on recent research and developments, and discuss future directions related to mentoring. The 14th annual Mentoring Summit was held January 24-26, 2024 and provided opportunities for attendees to form new connections and learn new strategies for strengthening and expanding the youth mentoring movement.

Dr. Stump, Dr. Stelter, and Ms. Wheeler led a session entitled Creating Cultural Competency Training Using a Design-Thinking Approach: A STEM Mentoring Case Study at the recent Summit to discuss the development of mentor training resources that both emphasize the importance of relationship development and prepare mentors to support the unique needs, goals, and interests of mentees who are interested in STEM education and careers.

Careers and higher education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) provide promising opportunities for professional growth and success. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics project that the number of STEM occupations in the United States is projected to grow 10.8% between 2021 and 2031, over twice as fast as all other occupations. In addition, the median annual wages of STEM workers are nearly twice that of those with occupations unrelated to STEM. There are also ample opportunities for STEM occupations regardless of education status. Approximately 59% of America’s STEM workforce does not hold a bachelor’s degree.

Despite the promising opportunities presented by STEM, the United States is experiencing a shortage of STEM workers. The National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte predicts that the United States will have a shortage of up to 3.5 million STEM workers by 2025. To compound the problem, there are great disparities in the STEM workforce related to gender, race and ethnicity, and disability status. For example, according to data in 2021, only 35% of the STEM workforce is female, even though 48% of the entire U.S. workforce is female. In addition, only 9% of the STEM workforce is Black or African American and 15% is Hispanic or Latino, even though 11% of the entire U.S. workforce is Black or African American and 18% is Hispanic or Latino. These disparities are likely due to the perpetuation of stereotypes in the American educational system and workforce. Students may be treated differently according to race, gender, or ability in STEM courses; textbooks may communicate harmful stereotypes; and employers’ unconscious biases may affect their decisions related to hiring and promotions for STEM positions. In addition, a lack of diverse role models in STEM careers may dissuade young people from pursuing a future in STEM, even if they are interested in STEM subjects.

An effective strategy to recruit, retain, and sustain a larger, more diverse STEM workforce is to first foster interest and engagement of younger generations in STEM topics. STEM mentoring programs, for example, may foster youth engagement in STEM by providing young people with opportunities to start a meaningful relationship with a mentor who can support and encourage their interests in STEM subjects. Mentors, especially those in STEM fields, can share their insight about STEM careers with mentees, provide advice about how to persevere in the face of academic and vocational challenges, and provide youth with critical social capital and networking connections that are beneficial for successfully navigating STEM academic and career environments. Mentoring may be particularly impactful for mentees who are underrepresented in STEM because it may provide a safe environment to explore their interests in STEM if they do not feel comfortable doing so at school, and may allow them to receive support in dealing with microaggressions or stereotyping. STEM mentoring is adaptable, and programs can target STEM engagement goals during various points in youth development and education, whether mentees are in preschool, elementary school, middle school, or high school.

Pre-match training can help STEM mentors learn to promote their mentees’ positive attitudes toward STEM, so they may be more likely to pursue a future career or higher education in STEM. For example, training may teach mentors strategies to help their mentee feel a sense of belonging in STEM fields, feel confident in their abilities, and feel motivated to continue exploring their interests even when they may fail. During their Mentoring Summit presentation, Stump, Stelter, and Wheeler discussed Mentoring Central’s development of a pre-match training program for STEM mentors, Building the Foundation for STEM Mentors, aimed at preparing mentors to boost mentee engagement in STEM and provide support to mentees who are underrepresented in STEM.

The team discussed how Mentoring Central used a human-centered, design thinking approach to develop the new Building the Foundation for STEM Mentors course. Before developing course content, Mentoring Central’s experts brainstormed and researched the barriers to STEM recruitment, knowledge mentors need to know to support STEM mentees, and strategies to help mentors create an environment where mentees feel seen, among other important topics. Mentoring Central partnered with multidisciplinary students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to conduct interviews with 14 STEM mentoring program professionals, and insight from these interviews was used to inform course content. Workshop attendees had the opportunity to participate in activities to explore each of the five design thinking steps (i.e., empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test), and understand the application of a design thinking approach for problem-solving and innovation.

Stump, Stelter, and Wheeler also provided an overview of the Building the Foundation for STEM Mentors course and discussed Mentoring Central’s rationale for including specific course topics. For example, research has shown that mentees may be more confident in their abilities to conduct research or work related to science when they have close relationships with their mentor. For this reason, the Building the Foundation for STEM Mentors course includes foundational training and practice opportunities for mentors to learn the skills and knowledge needed to develop a close, long-lasting, effective mentoring relationship with a mentee. In addition, the course provides training on the importance of STEM mentoring and motivations for being a STEM mentor. By understanding the need for more STEM professionals in the workforce and the role of mentors in addressing this need, mentors may feel more motivated to support and engage their mentee. The course also includes lessons designed to help mentors build strategies to recruit and retain mentees from underrepresented groups in STEM, build cultural competency, and help mentees deal with microaggressions in STEM. These lessons are a key component of effective pre-match STEM mentor training because they teach mentors to tailor their mentoring according to the individual needs of their mentees, so they can support the recruitment of a more diverse and inclusive STEM workforce.

Building the Foundation for STEM Mentors incorporates interactive scenarios and self-reflection activities to help mentors practice specific skills and behaviors to support their mentee’s interest, engagement, and sense of belonging in STEM. The course also gives mentoring program staff members the opportunity to select which lessons to include in their mentors’ training to create their own customized course that is best suited for their program. Mentoring programs can upload and insert their own videos, animations, or documents in the course, such as mentor application forms, mentor-mentee agreement forms, or a welcome letter, to support their program’s specific training and orientation process.

The team concluded the workshop by discussing the results of a feasibility study of the training course. 20 mentors and nine STEM mentoring program staff members took the Building the Foundation for STEM Mentors training and provided feedback on the usability of the course and their satisfaction with course content. Mentors and staff reported high satisfaction with the system interface and organization. After taking the course, most mentors believed the training was valuable, were excited to begin mentoring, and believed their mentoring program should use the course to train future mentors. In addition, staff found the training valuable and reported that they would recommend the training to others. Notably, 100% of program staff members who took the course reported that they learned something new. This finding highlights the usefulness of the training material, given that participating staff members had approximately 7.2 years of experience in the mentoring field.

If you are interested in offering Building the Foundation for STEM Mentors to your mentors, visit our website to get started.