STEM Mentoring Initiative Gains Momentum

At the 2013 White House Science Fair, President Obama announced US2020, a campaign led by a coalition of leading tech companies and education non-profits to encourage companies to mobilize 20 percent of their STEM employees to complete 20 hours of STEM teaching or mentoring per year by the year 2020—with a focus on girls, minorities, and low-income youth.

Today, students who are part of communities typically underrepresented in STEM fields may be steered away from STEM careers because they aren’t connected to role models in those fields and may not understand the full range of STEM career options available to them or what people in those careers actually do. 

America’s ten million scientists and engineers can be a powerful resource to address this problem. As Citizen Schools CEO and current US2020 Executive Chairman Eric Schwarz has noted, the goal of this campaign is to get “leading scientists teaming up with teachers to co-teach the chemistry of forensics during the regular school day; NASA physicists running semester-long, after-school robotics programs; and Google programmers showing urban youth how to design smartphone apps on weekends.”

Since President Obama’s announcement, momentum for this effort has continued to grow.

On September 18,  US2020 launched a competitive application process for cities across the country to develop plans to dramatically scale-up their STEM mentoring capacities. Applicants are being judged by a panel of experts from academia, government, non profits, and the private sector. Winning cities will be announced in March, 2014, and will receive access to a state-of-the-art volunteering matching web site, cash prizes to help hire city coordinators for STEM mentoring efforts, and support from AmeriCorps VISTA to help with volunteer recruitment and training. In the few months since applications opened, 52 cities formed coalitions of local governments, schools, businesses, and non-profits to develop these plans.

On December 4 and 5, the 13 competition finalists met in Boston to begin building a network of communities across America that are committed to dramatically scaling STEM mentoring. The 13 finalist cities are: Allentown, PA; Baton Rouge, LA; Boston, MA; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX; Indianapolis, IN; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Research Triangle Park, NC; San Francisco, CA; Tulsa, OK; Wichita, KS. 

At the convening, city-team representatives discussed the key elements of high-quality STEM mentoring, such as a focus on hands-on, real-world activities, multiple sessions of mentorship that culminate in a product or a student presentation, and a commitment to measure results, including student interest in STEM careers. 

They also exchanged stories about the benefits of STEM mentoring. For instance, Dan Gonyea, a young programmer at Microsoft’s Nerd Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, noted that STEM mentoring helped him get a promotion when his supervisors realized that by mentoring students, he was also building collaboration and planning skills, in addition to making a difference in the community. And Frank, an 8th grader from Boston, said he had always loved cars but never made the link between design and engineering and future careers until he took a solar car design class at Citizen Schools—a nonprofit focused on educating children and strengthening communities through apprenticeships and other programs

Based on early feedback, cities left feeling better prepared to build local movements around STEM mentoring; they highly valued the opportunity to build connections with others committed to STEM mentoring.  Even after competition winners are announced, US2020 will reconvene the group in summer 2014 to continue working with all 13 cities to significantly increase the number of STEM professionals working with students.

The community of partners supporting US2020 is also expanding. Recently, Raytheon announced its support of US2020, joining founding partners Cisco, Cognizant, SanDisk, and Tata Consulting Services.

We at OSTP are excited about the progress that has been made, and look forward to continued momentum as coalitions of cities, schools, businesses, non-profits, and volunteers expand their support of this important initiative. 

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP

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