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Connecting Youth and Mentors: Improving the STEM Career Pipeline Through Mobile e-Mentoring Technology

Mike Barnett

Professor, Lynch School of Education

Mentors and role models can play a significant role in students’ motivation to pursue specific careers as they transition to adulthood, particularly science-based careers. Unfortunately, youth are often insecure about their math and science skills or discouraged by peer pressure from pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, especially women and minorities. Recent National Science Foundation (NSF) data shows that the science and engineering workforce is largely white and male with people of color making up only 7 percent of the STEM workforce (National Science Board, 2014). Despite an increased focus on improving the number of underrepresented youth (students of color, low income) pursuing the STEM fields, researchers have found that low-income, first-generation college students are four times more likely to leave college during their first year than their peers, and more than three times less likely to transfer to a four-year school in a six-year time frame, and four times as likely to leave a STEM field than their peers (National Science Board, 2014). One of the oft called-for recommendations is to expand the capacity and diversity of the STEM workforce pipeline by building better and easier structures to provide mentoring to young people entering the STEM pipeline.

Even if students are prepared, have adequate information, and are ambitious and talented enough to succeed in STEM fields, success may also hinge on the extent to which students feel socially and intellectually integrated into their academic programs and campus environments. The importance of social and intellectual integration for success is critical to all students, regardless of background. For minority students who may feel, or be made to feel, like outsiders as they see few others “like themselves” among the student and faculty populations, this issue takes on even greater salience. Yet finding a sufficient number of mentors to reach the number of students necessary to repair the leaky STEM pipeline is daunting because it is often very difficult to find a sufficient number of mentors and to find the time for the mentors to meet with the students on a regular basis (Blake-Beard, Bayne, Crosby, & Muller, 2011). In fact, in our previous work (through our interactions with industry personnel), we learned that many would be very excited to serve as a mentor, but would have difficulty finding time given family and job commitments. However, they informed us that if an on-line mentoring program were available, they would be interested in participating in it. To that end, this project will develop a mobile application that is based upon MentorNet’s (our partner for this project) existing web-based mentoring model.