“Girls in STEM: What Makes a Good Mentor?”

On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, the Huffington Post hosted a Google+ Hangout: “Girls in STEM: What Makes a Good Mentor?” Led by Brittany Binowski, Community Editor at the Huffington Post, with a panel which consisted of Mamta Patel, Director of Women@NASA, Connie Chow, Executive Director for the Science Club for Girls, Karen Peterson, Principal Investigator for the National Girls Collaborative Project, and Nimisha Ghosh Roy, Program Manager for FabFems.  Below is a summary of highlights from the session in a Q&A format which includes resources, strategies, and personal insights about how to be effective role models and engage girls in STEM.

What are some strategies to be an engaging mentor?

  • Be a real person! Talk about your interests: life, loves, pets, and hobbies. Young girls often have multiple interests - show them that’s ok! If you are a STEM professional, that doesn’t mean you can’t also be an artist.
  • While mentors should have some similar interests as their mentees, they can also act as a cheerleader to instill confidence in girls to explore STEM careers. Mentoring can help a girl consider many different STEM activities.

What are the ideal ages of mentors/mentees?

  • Mentors and mentees can be any age! From teenagers to seniors, it’s important to identify similar interests and establish trust to create strong, sustained relationships.
  • Training is critical. Regardless of the age and experience of a mentor/role model, it’s always helpful to review strategies and best practices to engage girls in STEM. Resources like Techbridge and FabFems are a great place to start!

How do you structure time as a mentor?

  • Use hands-on activities! (There are many examples from TechBridge, PBS’s Design Squad Nation, & SciGirls). By incorporating experiential learning, mentors and role models are more likely to maintain students’ attention and promote STEM interests.

What are difficulties that can arise as a mentor?

  • You might not connect with your mentee immediately. Inviting a mentee to events can be a bonding experience, but small, regular interactions are just as meaningful in developing relationships. Find time to build trust and share your story.
  • It’s also important to establish availability in the beginning; set up rules and expectations for communication. Involving caregivers helps manage expectations and maintain relationships as well.

How do you ensure that mentors/mentees get along?

  • There are simple activities you can do prior to matching role models and students, such as using “Getting to Know You” sheets to learn about individual interests.  
  • In the event that a mentor/mentee do not get along, implement group mentoring.   

Is there a difference between online versus in-person mentoring?

  • A recent study, “A Moderated Mediation Model of E-Mentoring” found there is no difference between online versus in-person mentoring; it depends on the community needs. If the technology is available, why not use it to create a meaningful connection?  

Have additional questions? Interested in getting involved? Email Karen Peterson at kpeterson@edlabgroup.org.