Two female elementary school students conducting experiment in a university lab with their mentor (Photo Credit: Katie O'Dwyer)
Sometimes having a mentor can make all the difference in choosing a career path or field of study. Mentoring youth has positive impact on their development and academic achievement. A study by Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada found that youth with mentors were more confident in their academic abilities and less likely to experience behavioural problems.
Mentoring is also critical in helping youth explore and develop their interest in the fields of STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math. That is why SciXchange (formerly the Office of Science Outreach and Enrichment) at Ryerson University partnered with the non-profit Visions of Science Network for Learning to set up a mentoring program that benefits marginalized and underrepresented youth.
Through the program, eight students from the Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park were matched with mentors who are Ryerson science students. The students worked in groups on science projects. The groups had access to Ryerson facilities to work on their projects, which ranged from in-lab experiments to 3d-printed prosthetics.
The positive impact on the elementary students was palpable. Here are some of the benefits to the mentoring program.
The mentored students showed substantial improvement in their self-confidence and presentation skills. "I think they were a little nervous. But they gained confidence, and when we asked them what they gained from this, they gained presentation skills and were more confident in speaking," said Ryerson biomedical science student Tanya Aziz who helped coordinate Ryerson students' involvement in the program.
Boosting girls' enrollment in STEM
Women face more barriers than men when seeking mentors. A recent study shows that faculty are significantly more responsive to mentoring white men than all other categories collectively. Research shows that lack of confidence can impact girls' enrollment in STEM fields. It also shows that young men have a better opinion of their abilities than young women. In a study by Statistics Canada, 50 per cent perceived their ability in math as "very good" or "excellent" versus 37 per cent of young women. As mentoring helps improve girls' self-confidence, it becomes a critical factor in increasing their enrollment in STEM.
Encourage inclusion in STEM
To encourage minorities to enroll in STEM, we need to mentor students at a young age and introduce them to STEM in a fun, hands-on way. A mini camp, organized by Ryerson University in collaboration with Let's Talk Science, is a great example. The summer camp gave three girls and five black boys the opportunity to learn to code and build robotics with access to mentors.
Mentoring is a two-way street. Not only does mentoring help the person being mentored but it's also a great way for mentors to build leadership skills. In addition to helping others and giving back to the community, the mentoring program was a great opportunity for Ryerson student mentors to develop and hone their leadership styles as they find their own voice in STEM. The program provided a win-win experience for both mentors and mentees.
This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.