Transcript from the recorded webinar “How IEEE Uses STEM eMentoring to Help Inspire the Next Generation of Engineers.”
Lynne Bowlby, Program Specialist for educational outreach with IEEE Educational Activities department
Steve Welby, IEEE Executive Director & COO
Jamie Moesch, Managing Director, IEEE Educational Activities
Marilyn Catis, Associate Director, Author Engagement Tools & Support, IEEE Publications and TryEngineering Together eMentor
Developed in partnership between IEEE and Cricket Media. TryEngineering Together is a unique eMentorship platform, giving companies and their employees meaningful volunteer opportunities to engage online with students in grades 3 to 5. The program’s design is simple. Students and company volunteers are matched 1:1 in eMentoring relationships to create safe, powerful STEM learning experiences.
Guided by a curriculum designed to be engaging, interactive, and thought provoking, students and their mentors read short articles related to STEM subjects and exchange online letters discussing those articles. The teacher reviews all emails prior to them being read by the student or mentor. Throughout the academic year students and mentors communicate regularly about the articles they read and about the hands-on activities they do in the classroom to develop a STEM learning relationship.
Lynne: We are here today with IEEE Executive Director and COO Steve Welby to discuss TryEngineering Together and the importance of eMentoring. Thank you, Steve, for joining us.
Steve: Thanks Lynne, happy to be here.
Lynne: Professional societies like IEEE are invested in the next generation of STEM professionals. In attracting students to choose STEM paths, what challenges do you see from the IEEE perspective?
Steve: From any perspective Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are going to be critical to our collective future—to our economic future and to solving the major problems that face humanity here in the US and abroad. It’s going to be enormously important that we have the young men and women who are going to lead the programs that are going to make a difference in STEM fields in the future.
People talk about a pipeline of young STEM professionals. But a pipeline is made up of individual students who find these career paths, who find these fields appealing, interesting, and important. And it is going to be enormously critical to society that we attract capable and devoted young people to these professions in the future.
But I worry that today we are missing a large part of the qualified potential future STEM professionals. Today, many groups are underrepresented in the engineering professions. And we are probably not doing enough to reach out to those young people and to convince them that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math will be attractive and appealing professions.
And part of that is, today many groups are underrepresented in our technical professions. Be that minorities, be that women of course remain underrepresented in many technical fields. And I think that that means there aren’t role models for young people to look to. To see that people like them are making a difference in these fields. That people like them are succeeding in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. I think that it is important for organizations like IEEE to help model the behaviors that we want to see. To be able to provide role models and mentors to young people that they can look up to and recognize that STEM is going to be a welcoming and fulfilling field for them to participate in. To make these areas attractive. And to help meet our social responsibility to ensure that the next generation is available, ready, and prepared to take on the challenges that are in front of us.
Lynne: What are some of the ways we can address these challenges?
Steve: Well I think that it is really important that we are thinking about these issues very early in a young person’s exposure to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Attitudes towards these professions are solidified early in a young person’s life. Folks think that this is not for them. That I’m not good at this. They say that these are the kind of fields that others go into but not people like me. And I think that it is very important that we break down those barriers. That we allow young people to see that these are welcoming professions. These are areas that they can identify with. And that these are disciplines and professions that will allow them to contribute.
Part of that career awareness is to let young people understand what Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math careers are. That they are not just folks in white lab coats on TV, but they are practical builders of the things around them, designers of future capabilities. Professionals that are helping to cure diseases, address hunger, and allow folks to live together in peace. That these careers encompass a wide variety of activities across the engineering professions, whether it is electrical or civil or mechanical or other science and mathematical professions. That it covers an enormous scope of areas and enormous opportunities to match interests and talents to the needs of the profession.
I think that it is really important that folks see that there are opportunities out there. That these aren’t just things they can aspire to, but that they can actually do. That there are opportunities and programs that help these folks pursue education and the ability to pursue employment.
There are employers that are interested in reaching out to new communities, engaging future talent, who want to be able to connect with young people. And draw them in and get them involved in work they are doing and in doing so bringing new ideas into their organizations and institutions.
I think that is one of the appealing things that we are doing at IEEE. We are engaging young people directly. We are trying to communicate the importance of the profession, and we are also engaging with organizations, with companies, with potential employers, helping to create pathways for them to reach out to young people in communities that they might not be engaged in; in communities that are sometimes harder to reach for some of these organizations; places where they may not be co-located. And to help them to think about how to provide mentors and role models in those professions to young people in those areas.
Lynne: The TryEngineering Together program addresses these needs with a focus on eMentoring. With so many well-known benefits for face-to-face mentoring, what makes virtual mentoring different?
Steve: I think that face-to-face mentoring is important. IEEE supports it. Our employees, of course, do mentor in local schools. And IEEE volunteers around the world are engaged in a number of programs to bring capabilities into their local schools.
But there are a lot of limitations to face-to-face mentoring. First, you must be proximate to the student. You must be there physically; you must be there on time. eMentoring is an interesting idea, because it allows us to break down those barriers of time and location. It allows professionals wherever they are to be able to reach out and engage a student.
eMentoring allows students to use electronic means to be able to engage and ask questions and have a dialog with their mentors. And it allows those who are engaged with students, in the course of their busy day, to be able to take time out appropriately, to be able to engage with students from their desk or from their home. Rather than have to lose time getting up and going someplace. It works much better with the flow of both the students’ day and the mentors’ day. And it allows mentors to be able to touch many more students.
One-on-one engagement is really important. But quite frankly, in many cases we just don’t have enough mentors to go around. And electronic mentoring enables scale in an interesting way. Allows those who are willing to volunteer to engage with students to be able to touch a larger number, be able to touch them more directly, connected to their curriculum, and maybe able to make a bigger difference.
It’s also quite sustainable. The feedback we get from face-to-face programs is often that there is burnout. Folks are really excited; they get engaged. But the demand on time and energy often wears on mentors, and students have expectations that they are going to see their mentors on a regular basis. Life gets in the way. But these electronic mentoring programs are much more flexible. And allow students and mentors to engage in a way that fits the changes in their lives. It’s a natural way. It’s how we engage in the business world. And quite frankly, it’s how young people are engaged today electronically online as well. And I think that’s a real value of the eMentoring programs.
Lynne: An important method of STEM teaching is through the use of hands-on engineering design and problem-solving challenges. How is this method supported through a virtual mentoring program?
Steve: The program that we are working with at IEEE, TryEngineering Together incorporates both virtual communication and engagement of a volunteer who is interacting with a student, and can offer them their background experience. Stories about their professional engagement. How science has changed their lives. And hands-on in-classroom activities. And so, it is the best of both worlds.
One of the challenges with other mentoring activities is that they are not directly integrated into the classroom curriculum. And the TryEngineering Together activities engage the teachers, engage the curriculum, engage the mentors, and engage those hands-on activities. So, we are bringing it all together in this program.
As students are engaged in the pedagogical curricular activities in the classroom, they have access to hands-on kits if they are doing “What ifs?” And that is tied into the holistic day that the teacher is designing. That is not just STEM but all the other things around it. The mentor’s activities are directly integrated. The communication is in writing, which reinforces other key skills. The topics that are discussed are directly relevant to the classroom experience. The package that the students are working on is the same package that is in front of the mentor. So, they are sharing that kind of experience too. So, this kind of virtual activity doesn’t mean that it is separate from the rest of the day. It’s virtual but integrated. That’s one of the things that are exciting about TryEngineering Together.
Lynne: We know that the program is in its first academic year. What type of feedback are you receiving so far?
Steve: To date we have more than 400 folks participating in the program. We’ve got 12 teachers in the BETA test activities that are working here. We have sponsor corporations. And the feedback from that first-year activity has been overwhelmingly positive. We deliberately were taking small steps here in the first year to make sure that we could get that kind of feedback and make corrections in the program to ensure that it is suitable for scale.
At the same time, we wanted to exercise all the parts of the program so we could get that good scale. So, we could see all the pieces of delivery required to make this program work. And one of the exciting statistics that I have gotten back from the team is that to date every teacher that has been involved in this program has asked to return next year. And so, I think that just speaks to the impact this is having in the classrooms where TryEngineering is engaged.
Teachers report that students come to class in the morning and ask first thing if they have gotten anything from their eMentor in the program. So, kids are getting up thinking about STEM, thinking about engaging in this program. Excited to be part of it. In education one of the key things we are always trying to draw to is enthusiasm about the program. And to date, the TryEngineering program shows a significant amount of enthusiasm from students who participate.
Maybe the last piece is anecdotal. We have had reports that students after their experience with TryEngineering Together are talking about themselves as future engineers. They are imagining themselves in the roles that their eMentors are engaged in. We’ve opened their imaginations and minds to think about new paths that they might not have considered before. And I think that is exactly what we are trying to do here. And I think that this program offers a real opportunity to take a lot more young people and have them share that kind of experience.
Lynne: Any final messages for companies that might be interested in becoming a sponsor?
Steve: On a personal note, I’ve had a very productive career in engineering. I’ve been Chief Operating Officer of a very large organization. I’ve been involved with design. I’ve worked on cutting-edge research work. I’ve led very large teams. But, when I was myself in elementary and middle school years, I think back on my family and the folks I met in the neighborhood and people I knew. And they all worked with their hands. We were a blue-collar family. And I am struck that I met a neighbor that was an engineer, who took time to share with me some documents and magazines and journals that he had kicking around the house. He looked like everyone else. And when I think back on my personal history, I think that meeting someone who looked like me, looked like he was doing something I could do, changed the direction of my life from being, science and math I was interested in but didn’t know anyone who did it, to
being something I could imagine myself doing as a career. I think that is an enormous opportunity for young people to get that exposure.
Additionally, one of the things that excites me about TryEngineering Together is how it not only addresses the students’ needs, but it would address corporate C-suite needs—particularly, those thinking about integrating these activities into an overall corporate social responsibility program.
The program supports community outreach not just locally but around the country and around the world. To be able to remotely touch communities in which the organization has interest and engagement, but I may not have technical professionals co-resident in those communities. I can multiply the impact of my staff remotely using tools like eMentoring.
Then finally, I think that it is a great way to engage employees. Feedback that I get from our face-to-face mentoring programs is that it is highly motivational. Employees come back charged up. They feel connected with their communities; they feel connected to their profession. They contribute on the job as well as in that volunteer capacity.
It’s a significant attractor to employees that they are directly engaged in this important work. But again, it is often difficult to do. Participation rates are challenged by those who can take the time and be taken out of work to do these kinds of things. And tools like eMentoring allow you to expand those positive benefits from employee engagement to a much larger portion of your workforce. The scalability of this program allows it to be rolled out with minimal impact.
And the work that has gone on across the TryEngineering Together teams delivers a fully integrated package to the employers. This is not a pick-up game. There isn’t a lot required of sponsors to invest in getting prepped and started. The schools are prepared, the material is prepared, the connections are ready. So, you can just bring the folks that you would like to contribute to it. I think that is a real win for everybody.
And finally, from the participant perspective it offers opportunities for visibility. When I would go out and visit folks, in a previous life, I would love to brag about the great work that our employees were doing with schools in the community and the variety of programs that we had. And I think that this is a great way to demonstrate the responsibility of your brand, of your organization. To be able to communicate your values through your employees’ direct engagement. And I think that it is just a fantastic program that does good for the students engaged, does good for the communities engaged, and has a great return to the organizations involved.
Lynne: Next, we will talk to IEEE’s educational activities managing director, Jamie Moesch. He will discuss how the TryEngineering Together Program began—what makes the program unique and what potential corporate sponsors can expect. Thank you for joining us today, Jamie.
Jamie: Hi Lynne, thank you.
Lynne: Why did IEEE choose to develop an eMentoring program?
Jamie: The short answer is, the world needs more kids and more importantly more kids from diverse backgrounds to become engineers and technology professionals. And IEEE believes we have to play a role in making that happen. Data from so many sources points this out, right? Think about it: just as an example, the Massachusetts STEM advisory council shows that 80 percent of potential jobs are going to require STEM skills. But then other studies like Bill Nye’s Fixing the US STEM Problem shows many kids lose interest in science and technology at an early age. We know that most people follow engineering because they have a mentor. They have a family member or a friend that was an engineer and they can follow in their footsteps. They meet an engineer, they understand that an engineer isn’t just this mystical concept. And the fact is that not every child has a friend or family member who can be an engineer. Especially if you’re in an underresourced district. And that is where TryEngineering Together steps in. We connect people with engineers that they would never have met in their lives. And then through TryEngineering Together, we and the mentors in that program can inspire those kids into science and technology.
Lynne: Can you tell us how the TryEngineering Together Program works?
Jamie: Of course! I think the most important part about how the program works is that it’s free for teachers and schools to participate. Corporate sponsors cover the cost to participate. And that is the most important piece. Schools are already scratching for funds everywhere they can, and this is a great opportunity for corporations to give back. The big steps of the program are, the company agrees to become a sponsor for a classroom or a set of classrooms. And then after they agree, we recruit employee mentors. And those mentors go through a background check and get a brief training through a webinar. We match the mentors 1 to 1 with a student. And then we have a few introductory sessions and connections. You know, they share letters—the student and the mentor. They just get to know each other. It is important to know that the teacher is in between every communication. So, nothing gets through to a student or a mentor without going through a teacher first. That is important for safety. And then after you get introduced, the students start to choose articles on different technologies. There are three to six pages, so it’s not a lot of work for the mentor to read them. They are right at the grade 3–5 or maybe middle school level. And then the teacher, the student, and the mentor work
together to just bounce ideas back and forth. And share a little more through those letters about that technology. And it’s just a great opportunity for the mentor to expand, far beyond what that student could normally get in that article. Over time, a learning friendship develops. And both the mentors and students get inspired by each other and we end up with more kids filling the STEM pipeline.
Lynne: The program was developed in collaboration with Cricket Media. Why did IEEE choose to partner with Cricket?
Jamie: Well first of all, Cricket is one of the world’s leading children’s magazine publishers. They have long had a passion for STEM and increasing literacy and technology. You can see that in Cricket’s magazines like Ask, and Muse, and Click. In addition to the magazines and the passion for STEM, they also have the platform. They have a program called CricketTogether, which was already a literacy-based mentoring platform. And what they needed from us was to bring the engineering and technology to the platform. So Cricket brings the platform in general literacy and then IEEE brings the engineering and technology to the table. So it’s a great combination of forces. And it’s important to note Cricket’s connections to the parents and schools, especially in underresourced areas. It’s a critical connection. IEEE really doesn’t have a lot of those connections. And through Cricket’s network they have those connections. And that creates great opportunities for IEEE to increase our impact in this area.
Lynne: For companies who are interested in sponsoring a classroom, what are some of the benefits?
Jamie: There’s great benefits to the companies. Probably the coolest is, it’s an opportunity to give back to your community. But also, you might be able to help communities that might not be in your geographic area. So you can make connections with schools in your direct area, you know, maybe they are in your town or in your city. But also maybe you are an organization that is based in California but you have big programs in Alabama and you want to support schools there. This is a great way for your employees to get involved with communities outside your geographic area. But it is also a great way to serve your community. You can have great conversations about local connections with the students if it’s in your local community. Another big opportunity, a big benefit to the company, is that it is a great employee engagement opportunity. And you can impact a child in a meaningful way, without having to cause major interruptions in your day. Typically mentoring programs involve leaving the office and going to the school and dealing with all of the logistics to make that happen. This is simple. You can do it from your phone. You can do it from a computer. You can connect easily anytime of day. It’s synchronous, so the kids are writing to you and then you’re connecting later that day. There’s nothing live. So it’s really convenient for the mentors. And, it is a good way to increase employee engagement. Not a huge burden on people’s schedules. It’s also great for the company—they are showing that they support the future pipeline of STEM professionals, right? There is a lot of different things you can do out there, but this is a great way to show that you are impacting kids directly. And another thing to think about is if you have a lot of telecommuters in your organization, it’s a great opportunity for telecommuters. They wouldn’t be able to go to that local school in your area but they can participate in TryEngineering Together to make a difference in kids’ lives.
Lynne: What makes eMentoring different from traditional mentoring?
Jamie: eMentoring is kinda neat. I briefly touched on it in the last question. It’s a lot easier on the mentors to participate. All the logistics that you have to deal with to do face-to-face mentoring and making connections with kids is a lot. It goes away. It’s all handled in the TryEngineering Together program. It’s just automatic. Once you’re signed up and registered, you know, we make the links to the mentor and the student and then the teacher takes it and runs with it. It’s just really simple as a mentor. Also, there is a longer engagement. So you’re mentoring the child for a longer period of time. It’s not just one meeting, it’s not just one day at the school. You’re working through the entire school term, developing more and more of a learning relationship with the student. It’s also safer, right? There is no exchange of last names. There’s no in-person contact between the mentor and the students. The teachers review all the communications before they’re shared. So, it’s much safer for the children. And then not everybody does it, but you also have the opportunity through eMentoring to mentor more than one student. Right, it’s not a huge effort. A few hours a month. So to take on two students is quite easy. So there is an opportunity to have great impact and meaningful impact on a lot of different kids if you wanted to go that path.
Lynne: I understand you volunteered to serve as an eMentor. Can you tell us about your experience?
Jamie: Sure! I saw it as a great opportunity to get involved and inspire that next future generation of engineers with just a couple hours of effort. I was a mentor in the pilot program as well as the actual program. And I had two students, two mentees, I guess is the right word. Neither of them had family members that were engineers, so engineering was really new to them. What I liked about it was that I could develop a relationship with the students over the term of the school year. So it was something you could build over time and get to know more about each kid. And get to know what they like, what inspires them. Are they into different things, etcetera? And then once you learn more about the kids you can inject some things about engineering and technology into the conversation and they don’t even necessarily know you’re doing it, right? And it is a way to demystify engineering and make sure that they know an engineer or somebody that likes to solve problems or fix things or make the world a better place in some way. A pretty cool story was the pilot mentorship I had. The young lady I was connected with was really into music. The story that we read was about engineering in sports. Specifically, it was about engineering in tennis. And the engineering behind tennis rackets and the fact that they could engineer a tennis racket to hit the ball harder with more velocity. Then what is there now? But you had to keep it within reason, you couldn’t overengineer the racket. That’s the case for a lot of different sports now. But it was really neat to me that in the article my student made a connection with herself, that she said “I’m a musician and I don’t play sports.” But if there are engineers behind sports there has got to be a way that engineers are behind how musical instruments are designed. They can make it sound better or make it sound cooler. And I said EXACTLY! That’s what engineering is. So she may choose a path, who knows? She might be the next Yo Yo Ma or maybe she chooses a path, you know, that involves engineering and chooses to engineer the next greatest-sounding wind instruments, etcetera. So it could be a great opportunity for somebody like herself to get involved in engineering. Or it’s a way to make engineering applicable to her life, and that’s a pretty cool thing. And it’s a great opportunity that this program gives us as an organization. And gives all the participating companies too. That’s pretty cool.
Lynne: Is there anything else you would like to share with a potential TryEngineering Together classroom sponsor?
Jamie: Absolutely! The most important thing I’d like to share is, we would love to have them join us as a classroom sponsor and help us inspire that next generation of engineering and technology professionals. If you’re an IEEE member and you are listening to this, know that we would be more than happy to connect with your organization. If this inspires you a little bit. You think it could inspire the rest of the employees at your company to take advantage of this program and help us make a difference in the world? We’d love that opportunity. You may still have a lot of questions at the end of this webinar. And I just want everyone to know that IEEE and the team at Cricket Media would be happy to set up a time to discuss the program at length. Do a demo for you etcetera. And answer any questions that you have about the program in a lot more detail than we can share in this webinar. So we look forward to having those conversations with you.
Lynne: Great! Well, Jamie, thank you very much for spending time with us today!
Jamie: Thank you very much for having me.
Lynne: You’re welcome.
Lynne: Next, we will talk to IEEE publications employee and TryEngineering Together eMentor, Marilyn Catis. She will share her experience as a program mentor. Thank you for joining us today, Marilyn. How long have you been an eMentor for the program?
Marilyn: For two years.
Lynne: Now, were you part of the pilot as well as the current year?
Marilyn: I was part of the pilot and this is my second year serving as an eMentor.
Lynne: Oh, very good. How did you learn about the program?
Marilyn: I initially read about it through Inside IEEE, which is the IEEE staff internet site. And because my interest was piqued, I went to check with some folks in the education activities department. And they gave me some more insight about what it was going to be all about.
Lynne: And how was the onboarding registration process for you?
Marilyn: It was super easy and it wasn’t much of a time commitment. The team who created the virtual platform for the eMentoring to take place on created an online webx type of situation. Where within like an hour we had seen how we were going to go through the process of reading the literature and having letters go back and forth with our pen pals. And it was all really helpful and very direct and easy to sign onto.
Lynne: Why did you choose to be an eMentor for the program?
Marilyn: Anything that exposes kids to STEM is interesting to me and worth getting behind. One of the fundamental reasons I enjoy working for IEEE is, their core mission’s to support these kinds of efforts.
Lynne: How much time does it take for you to mentor?
Marilyn: It doesn’t take much time at all. To read the literature that the teacher has assigned is a 10- to 15-minute activity. And then you spend another 10 to 15 minutes writing an engaging letter to your student.
Lynne: So how do you fit the eMentoring into your schedule?
Marilyn: I like to read or write to my student while I’m on a lunch break or on the weekend, where I can review the information with my kids to see if they were already aware or if there is something we can talk about based on what I just learned in the reading.
Lynne: Tell us about your experience with your student. Any surprising or exciting moments?
Marilyn: I laughed out loud reading one of my letters when my pen pal talked about a fun experiment they did in class and then boasted about teaching her mom. Something about wind energy. I thought that was great for so many reasons. The first reason is that her confidence about what was learned in the classroom made its way out into a real-world conversation. And the second is that I think the real-world conversation planted a seed of innovation. Something resonated with her. She had a positive experience, and it’s planted there, to be nurtured in time. I’d love to find out in the years to come that some of these students pursue degrees in engineering. That would be fun to know and really rewarding.
Lynne: What has been the most rewarding aspect of participating in the program?
Marilyn: For me it is making the connection with the student. Watching their writing evolve as the year progresses. And getting a glimpse into what they enjoy with the experiments or what fascinates them about the reading. It’s fun. Especially if they are apprehensive of what to expect and then they are happy with the outcome.
Lynne: What would you tell others who are considering volunteering for the program?
Marilyn: My advice would be to get involved. It’s such an easy 1-to-1 activity to engage in. You can do it anywhere you have access to a computer and internet. And you get to be reminded about really amazing things going on with engineering. In one reading we learned about Ada Lovelace and I got to tell my student about how all the conference rooms at IEEE are named after engineering pioneers but only the biggest and best conference room is named after Ada while all the other ones are named after men. We had a girl power moment and a chuckle. It was a good lead into women in engineering. Maybe one day my student will join IEEE and be an active member of women in engineering and I’ll get to know that that was another seed well planted.
Lynne: Well, thank you very much for joining us today, Marilyn. We really appreciate your time.
Marilyn: Thanks for the opportunity.
Lynne: And now we are going to open up our live Q&A session.
We had a question about how the schools are selected. And do you need to be the one who reaches out to the local schools to let them know about the program?
The schools are selected because they volunteer to fill out the application of interest about participating in the program. So they either learn about the program through someone like you or an event that we have promoted the program at, or just basically word of mouth from other educators that know of the program. So it would be great if you told them a little bit about the program. Direct them to the TryEngineering Together.com website. And they can click on an item in that website to fill out an application. And once they fill that out, we review it. We actually talk with the teacher or teachers that are interested in having their classroom sponsored, just to make sure they have got the qualifications we need to run this type of program. They’ve got the computer systems and the backing they need to run the program. And then we select them, and we wait till we have a corporate sponsor to sponsor their classrooms. The students are selected just merely by being students in the classroom that’s being sponsored. So, it’s their teacher showing the interest or another individual within the school showing interest, and then the student benefits from that—just from being a student in the classroom.
There was a question that came in about that—you see that we are getting feedback from teachers and mentors about the program. And the question is: Are we getting any direct feedback from our student mentees?
So we can scale and sustain the program going forward. And we do a pre-survey of the students to let them know. We do a pre-survey to have them give us a snapshot of where they are in their learning. And how they feel about reading. And science and technology. And then we do a post-survey following the program, to find out where they are at that point. So it does give a snapshot over the year, the course of the year, the academic year. To see how they might have learned in their growing in their literacy skills over that time.
There is someone who is asking about the fact that they see a lot of mention about corporate engineers or members in industry participating in this program. But what about university professors?
Most certainly we would welcome any university professors or university faculty. It’s just a question of getting funds to fund that classroom. So the cost that is involved in this program comes in with the classroom sponsor. And if you are interested in doing some sponsorship or your company is connected to your university, I will give you some contact information at the very end of this Q&A. So you can reach out and we can give you a more personalized answer to that question. So if you have a university that has some funding that it can put into this type of program, you can certainly participate as a mentor and sponsor a classroom.
We also have questions about whether retirees could serve as mentors.
Most certainly again, we would welcome our retirees serving. However, we would need to locate a classroom and then we certainly can reach out to some individual mentors that are interested in participating. And likely you would fill in where we might have some missing employees who may not be able to fill all the mentor positions for a particular classroom. It might be a larger-size classroom. We also could look into individual answers for you about how you might be able to participate as a mentor. So certainly, reach out to the contact information I give out at the end of the webinar. And then we can talk about your specific needs.
What’s really great about this program is that not only is it flexible in the way that the platform works itself, it’s also flexible on how the company or organization would like to sponsor classrooms and where the classrooms are that they want to sponsor. So it makes it a very flexible program all the way around.
What are the requirements for becoming a mentor?
There really aren’t strict requirements to become a mentor. Typically you are an employee of a company or organization that has decided to sponsor a classroom or classrooms. And then what that company does is try to recruit from within their employee population. So to become a mentor you don’t necessarily have to be an engineer with an engineering degree; you could be what we call an engineer enthusiast. Someone like me that works for IEEE—that is certainly an engineering association. I am not an engineer, but I do work with a number of engineers and work for an organization that is very engineer oriented. So we don’t want you to feel that you wouldn’t be able to handle any type of questions you might be asked by our third- to fifth-graders. The platform makes it really easy for anyone to step in. Gives you a lot of guidance and vocabulary words and some questions you might ask the students as you write your letters back and forth to them. The articles are written on a third- to fifth-grade level. So the student is selecting the article, and you as a mentor can very easily read those articles. Really, you learn as you’re going along, I find. So really, you’d be good as a mentor without very much work.
Someone was asking: How many units of study are available in the program?
So these are the units that the teachers can select from. And they tend to do one unit of study per month. We do have some teachers that are very motivated or have the type of schedule that is much more flexible, so they may do more units than one per month but we currently have 11 units in the program itself. And more are being developed for the next academic year. And topics include items such as biotic bodies, wind energy, learning to fly, protecting wildlife, and coding. And there are several others. So we like to try to cover a range of different engineering disciplines and subjects so children get the chance to learn about many possible careers they may have in engineering.
I think an important question that’s being asked is: Is this a global program? And since we are currently in our first year-and-a-half of the program, we are in that pilot stage. And we have had the program rolled out in the US so far. However, that does not mean that we can’t roll this program globally in the future. A little bit of a concern is that background checks are a bit different in the US versus other countries. So the reason that we started in the US is because the process was much more convenient. However, if you do live in another country or your company is in another country and you are interested in sponsoring a classroom, please contact us, because we can work with you on an individual solution to that background-check process.
I have a question: Does the eMentor have to pay anything to participate?
No, again the eMentor is someone who is volunteering their time on behalf of their company or organization or whoever is sponsoring that classroom. So the only thing we ask is that you give your time and your passion for helping students learn more about STEM. And sparking their interest in STEM.
What about the safety of the program?
That’s one of the things that we are really proud of with this program. First of all, the platform is a fully digital cloud-based platform, which is COPPA Safe Harbor Certified PRIVO. And so what that means is, as a participating member of PRIVO COPPA Safe Harbor certification program, the TryEngineering Together platform follows Privo’s commitment to safeguarding students’ personal information that is collected online. And Privo aims to help parents and their children exercise control over personal information while exploring the internet. So students’ information is kept secure and the mentors’ information is kept secure as well—as well as the teachers’. So all of this is log-in based, and they log in with a password. And that security is there for each of the users. And in addition to platform security, each of our mentors—and I mentioned this previously—must complete an online background check before being matched with a student. So if that person for some reason or another does not pass that background check they will not be matched with a student. And lastly, all the letter exchanges between the student and the mentor are reviewed by the teacher. So the teacher does serve as the gatekeeper. And so before they are passed through to the student or the mentor for reading, the teacher has to approve those. And if the teacher has a concern about something that is being said, perhaps the student got a little excited and mentioned something very personal about like where they lived—their address or something like that, which could give the mentor a way to connect with them in person—the teacher will send it back to the student, asking them to please revise it and remove the piece that he or she would like them to remove, and then it is submitted again so that it can go through to the mentor.
How can I find out if there is a school in my company’s area that would like to participate in the program?
We keep a list of schools that have submitted applications to participate in the program. The good news is that we have lots of interest on the school side. We just need to get some sponsors for them to get them rolling in the program. So when you would like to find out about the schools that are participating in your area, first you can contact to learn if there are any on that list. But secondly, if your company already has a relationship with a local school system, perhaps you’ve done some other programs with them in the past. You can provide us with the name of the school or a contact there or even someone within your organization that works with those schools. And we can reach out to learn if they would be interested in participating in the program. And they would basically fill out an application. We would review them and then connect them with your organization as a sponsor. So that’s a really nice way to make that happen. Because we already have got the sponsor in place. We now just need to match you with a school in your local area.
I have a question about the background check as a mentor.
The way that works is . . . Let’s start from the beginning. Your company decides to be a sponsor. They now are promoting it to you within the company as an employee. You have decided that you want to mentor for the program. That’s fantastic! So now you’re going to fill out an application, well really a registration—I should refer to it as a registration. A brief registration form to say that you’re interested in becoming a mentor. And then that kicks off an automatic background-check process. So you provide enough information there so we can run a background check by a third-party company that very specifically does background-check work. So that information is kept secure from IEEE employees and Cricket Media employees and is kept within the third-party background-check organization. And they automatically background-check you. So that’s how you do that. It’s all part of the registration process.
Someone would like to know what grade level this caters to.
It currently caters to the third- to fifth-grade years, grade levels. However, we are starting a pilot with the middle-school-aged children. So we are going to start that pilot in the fall and we will see how well that does. We’ll have about six units of study that have been adjusted for the higher grade levels. So lots of good things in the future for this program. Again, we are in the first year-and-a-half into the program, so our target was third to fifth grade. And that’s what our core program reaches.