By Jenny Kopach
I just returned from the Million Women Mentors Summit in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of mission-driven leaders from across the country convened to tackle the issue of closing the gender and skills gaps in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), particularly among women and girls.
The conference theme, “Becoming the Difference,” challenged each and every one of us to find and promote ways to shape the direction of a young person’s life. While 71% of today’s jobs require STEM skills, only 15% of girls (and 44% of boys) plan to pursue a career in STEM. But the power of one mentor can be the change: more than 75% of girls who have a mentor feel they will be successful pursuing a STEM career.
Wondering how to get started as a STEM mentor? First, look to your employer and ask about established practices and programs for employee volunteerism. Statistics reveal the trend of millennials demanding a workplace that encourages opportunities for employees to give back to the community.
According to research from leadership accelerator Net Impact, 53% of working professionals state that the ability to make an impact is essential to on-the-job happiness. Moreover, employees who feel they made an impact are 2x more likely to stay at their current job.
When companies create a culture of volunteerism and demonstrate that corporate goals are aligned to employee goals, it not only attracts new talent, it allows companies to keep the employees they have. It also provides an opportunity to fill the workforce development pipeline with mentees who might become future employees!
Mentoring with After-School STEM Programs
Second, whether it’s through a corporate-supported Employee Resource Group or just on your own, reach out to local schools and after-school programs that need STEM mentors. Programs like Science Olympiad are only successful because of volunteer mentors; our events are designed to encourage connections from standards-aligned curriculum to real-world applications. With nearly 250,000 students on 8,000 teams competing in 450 campus-based tournaments, we facilitate thousands of volunteer mentor relationships annually.
A Science Olympiad student preparing for Disease Detectives can learn about virus outbreaks from a researcher at a local health department, while her teammate studying for the Meteorology event can be impacted by a local National Weather Service scientist. Anyone with a STEM skill, from a construction engineer to a computer scientist, from an emergency room nurse to an astrophysicist, can help to light the pathway for a young person.
Use your own Power of One to become the difference.
About the Author: Jenny Kopach
As Executive Director and SVP Marketing Communications for Science Olympiad, the nation’s largest K-12 team STEM competition, Jenny oversees operations and manages partnerships with leading businesses, government agencies, scientific associations and higher education institutions. Working with a national network of State Directors, National Event Supervisors and Rules and Advisory Committee members, she also runs the Science Olympiad Urban Schools Initiative and has grown Elementary Science Olympiad.