STEM Role Model Spotlight: Mamta Patel Nagaraja

As a young girl, Mamta Patel Nagaraja benefited from the mentorship of her older sister, Daxa, who has encouraged her since they were children to pursue her science and engineering dreams. Four years older than Mamta, Daxa would direct her and their younger siblings in science activities and experiments that sparked their interest in science and technology, serving them well throughout their childhoods and into adulthood. She even clipped newspaper and magazine articles about science and space and gave them to Mamta, feeding her interest in space exploration.

Mamta went on to major at Texas A&M University in Engineering, beginning a path to help her reach her goal of becoming an astronaut. She enrolled in NASA’s selective Cooperative Education Program (now called Pathways), where she first participated, as a mentee, in a formal mentorship program. She pursued a graduate degree in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech, and is now working full time at NASA managing the Women@NASA Project.

Mamta is enrolled in the FabFems database and has served as a formal and informal mentor for youth ranging from middle school to college. Here are a few of her practical tips on how to be a good mentor:

  • Pay attention to physical clues. If you are “losing” your mentee, take a break or start over with a new approach. Each mentee understands concepts differently and requires an individualized approach.
  • Incorporate science education into normal things like baking. For example, you could do an activity like: “The Science of baking a cake.” Present the science to the student. Ask them: “what happens when the flour and the water mixes?”
  • Encourage youth to do what they love! Mamta tells her young mentees: “Don’t be afraid to do something even if it’s something that no one else is doing. Don’t worry about ‘the norm.’ And do NOT pay attention to the nay-sayers!”

Mamta in action

Mamta feels rewarded both personally and professionally through mentoring. She finds it extremely fulfilling to watch a college-age mentee move from student to professional in his/her career, or seeing a young girl become interested in pursuing a career in science. In her opinion, seeing girls’ excitement about STEM is the best part. She continues to emulate her sister by informally mentoring girls, like her young niece, who loves doing science activities with her aunt!

For more information on Mamta or to contact her, visit her FabFems profile