April 03, 2023, Durham, NC – There are fewer and fewer youth pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) each year. In addition, there are many subgroups of youth that are underrepresented in these fields including girls, youth with a disability, youth living in a low-income family, youth who are or will be first-generation college students, youth who are immigrants or refugees, and youth from a traditionally underrepresented ethnic or racial minority group. STEM mentoring programs can play an important role in inspiring youth of diverse races and abilities, and from diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in STEM. In order to be optimally prepared and effective, mentors volunteering or working in STEM mentoring programs need to be well prepared to create impactful relationships with their mentees to build their interest in these subject areas.

iRT received funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) to directly address this challenge of how to best train mentors to help build the interest and engagement of their mentees in STEM. The program development team is working on creating an evidence-based, engaging, multimedia eLearning course for mentors who are participating in STEM mentoring programs. This training will teach STEM mentors the skills needed to create and maintain an effective mentoring relationship with a mentee, in an effort to encourage youth to continue seeking opportunities in STEM and support mentees who are underrepresented in STEM fields. In addition to engaging in fun STEM activities with mentees, STEM mentors are responsible for managing impactful relationships with mentees, and understanding the appropriate roles and behaviors involved in a mentoring relationship. STEM mentors must also learn skills to support youth who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, so that these mentees feel supported. The new STEM mentor training will provide mentors with essential skills to address these needs and create mentoring experiences with lasting impacts.

iRT’s new training will include highly interactive lessons on foundational mentoring skills and topics, including understanding boundaries in a mentoring relationship, the roles that a mentor should and should not play, expectations for mentoring, and meeting a mentee for the first time. All foundational mentoring topics outlined in the training will be designed specifically for STEM mentoring programs and their unique needs. Mentoring program staff members will have the option to customize the course by selecting from a menu of lessons to compose a course that is best suited for their program. This new course directly addresses issues in STEM related to diversity, equity, and inclusion by including lessons on the topics of cultural competency, microaggressions and how to deal with them, prejudice and implicit bias and how to handle it, and racial equity. These topics were included in new course to better support youth who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.

iRT’s team of researchers are working diligently on the development of the training and will launch a usability study later this spring to assess the functionality of the program. This study will be followed by a feasibility study designed to examine the training’s success according to STEM programs’ needs. Results from both studies will be used to inform program improvements and provide the most impactful experience for STEM mentoring programs and their mentors.

If you work for a STEM mentoring program and are interested in participating in one or more of the upcoming studies, or in providing high-quality training to your STEM mentors, contact Dr. Katie Stump.