Mentoring Our Future Generation of STEM Professionals

Ed. Note: This was originally posted on the Department of Energy blog.

Yesterday, the Department of Energy unveiled a new mentoring program to pair female undergraduate science, engineering and math students in the Washington, D.C., area with female employees who specialize in those subject areas. The program aims to introduce the students to successful women in science and technology, giving the pairs the opportunity to shape their own activities over the course of the year with guidance from the Department of Energy’s Council on Women and Girls. The program also encourages participating undergraduate students to become mentors to D.C.-area high school and elementary school students.

The new Department of Energy program is just one piece of the Obama Administration’s strong support for mentorship. Today, First Lady Michelle Obama is hosting a series of mentoring events with renowned women, bringing together more than 20 accomplished women to serve as mentors to high school students in the D.C. area. The First Lady has spoken frequently about the importance of mentoring aspiring young students to help them achieve their full potential.

Mentors have proven to be effective teachers for developing our nation’s future leaders. Studies show, for example, that mentored youth have better attendance in school, a better chance of going on to higher education, and better attitudes toward school in general. Mentoring helps reduce the incidence of substance abuse and other harmful behaviors. And, young people who take part in mentoring programs have higher self-esteem. The National Research Council, among others, has documented that mentored female students enjoy a number of improved outcomes later in life compared to women who did not have that benefit.

Additionally, by offering their expertise and encouragement in personalized sessions, mentors can be highly effective in helping prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers. With their focus, in many cases, on groups underrepresented in these fields, mentors help ensure that tomorrow’s innovators reflect the full diversity of the United States.

This attention to diversity is especially critical for women and girls in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Women hold only 27 percent of jobs in science and engineering–sectors that are essential to our nation’s growth in a 21st century economy. This gap starts at an early age. In an American Society for Quality poll of 8-17 year olds, 24 percent of boys but only 5 percent of girls said they were interested in an engineering career.

Female STEM students in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area are encouraged to apply to our new program, and additional female employees at the Department’s headquarters are encouraged to sign up as mentors. Please visit http://diversity.energy.gov for more information.

Bill Valdez is the Acting Director for the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the Department of Energy

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