There have probably been countless moments in your life when you have leaned on someone for advice and support. Whether it be a family member, friend, professor, or other, the importance of mentors is undeniable. For students in a high-tech, ever-changing, competition-driven field like STEM, the importance of mentorship is only amplified. While mentorship comes in many flavors, there are four key components that make any student/mentor relationship successful. These components are: 1) the acquisition of knowledge and skills; 2) opportunities to put these into practice; 3) personalized advice and tips, and; 4) motivation and encouragement every step of the way.
1. Knowledge and Skills
Knowledge and skills are developed over time, and mentors can help foster and support this process at every step. Children enter elementary school as capable and generally enthusiastic science learners. Starting early, when students’ innocent curiosity is at its prime, will allow mentors to use their resources and experiences to equip students with the necessary information and skills. Over time, as students continue to grow and build on lessons and concepts learned in the lower grades, mentors could continue providing the resources and tools to hone in on their knowledge and skills. Ultimately, meaningful science learning takes time, and learners need repeated, varied resources and tools to encounter and grapple with ideas. With the first-hand experience that mentors possess, they are valuable carriers of information that can aid students along their learning journey.
2. Opportunities For Practice
Opportunities to put knowledge, skills, and habits of mind into practice allow students to hone their knowledge and skills as well as develop the persistence and competence that is critical for success in STEM. Having learned the necessary knowledge and skills, hands-on experiences are the next step to reinforce students learning, and connecting mentors would allow them to tap into these opportunities. With years of experience and countless connections in the booming STEM field, mentors can open students to invaluable opportunities for practice in places like museums and labs. By introducing students to hands-on learning experiences, mentors can help foster their learning and apply their knowledge in the real world outside of the classroom. Clearly, equipping your students with mentors can allow them to seize opportunities to put their classroom learning into practice and reap its benefits!
3. Tailored Advice and Tips
Coming back from hands-on opportunities for practice, it’s crucial for students to reflect and evaluate their performance and areas for improvement. Students will need to assess their knowledge and skills and make the necessary iterations for the future. Making mistakes is inevitable, especially in an experimental-learning-oriented field like STEM. Mentors are crucial in this stage, as having gone through similar situations, they can provide valuable advice to aid in the reflection process. Mentors can use their knowledge to give personalized advice and tips on how to approach a certain project moving forward, and they can allow students to find and remedy their mistakes. This would help create a positive trial-and-error loop, in which students can test and readjust their thinking in order to refine their knowledge and skills.
4. Constant Motivation and Encouragement
Beyond providing STEM education and learning opportunities, it is crucial to continue providing motivation to nurture their interest. Often it’s common to see students’ initial curiosity and passion for STEM falter as the curriculum becomes more rigorous. However, this is a crucial time for intervention and encouragement. In fact, research has shown that students who leave STEM majors often would have stayed had they been given more encouragement. Additionally, many science courses often “weed out” students who do not like the competitive culture of science rather than those who are not good at it. Having been through similar situations of motivation depletion themselves, mentors can provide the necessary boost to drive interest and passion. Being heavily involved in students’ trial-and-error learning process, they can provide the necessary encouragement to develop a growth mindset and keep them driven throughout the entire process. Clearly, mentors are necessary to cultivate students’ motivation and encouragement and ensure that they continue on the STEM track.
For growing students who are rapidly improving their STEM knowledge and skills, mentorship can prove to be incredibly rewarding, insightful, and beneficial. With the help of STEM mentors, your students can ensure success at every stage along the STEM educational continuum. While there is no single pathway or pipeline in STEM education, the aid of mentors can help fast-track each student’s unique path and put them on the path to STEM success. It is definitely worth equipping your students with seasoned STEM mentors that will aid them at every step of the way – from K to career!
Here at NSTEM™, we offer a variety of opportunities for interns all over the world. Much like a mentorship, interns can gain real-world experience in STEM. For more information on our internships, please visit here
Written by Krithik Ashokkumar