eMentoring for STEM Youth: Expanding Impact via TryEngineering Together and IEEE

In part two of this three part series, Steve Welby, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), answers questions about e-Mentoring, seen in his webinar on “How IEEE Uses STEM eMentoring to Help Inspire the Next Generation of Engineers”. To view the webinar or access other relevant links, please view the Resources section of this article.

Editor’s note: As part of the global commitment to develop a robust STEM workforce for the future, IEEE and Cricket Media formed a partnership in 2017 to create TryEngineering Together, a unique eMentorship platform giving companies a resource to mobilize their employees as volunteers to inspire and educate the next generation of engineers, scientists and technical professionals.

The platform leverages the deep STEM knowledge of IEEE and Cricket Media’s award-winning STEM content. TryEngineering Together is modeled on the CricketTogether eMentoring platform, giving companies and their employees meaningful volunteer opportunities to engage online with students and teachers in grades 3-5, particularly with those in economically underserved communities. 

TryEngineering Together is in its first academic year. What type of feedback are you receiving so far?

Right now, we have more than 400 people participating in the program. We’ve got 12 teachers in the BETA test activities that are working here. We also have sponsor corporations. The feedback from that first-year activity has been overwhelmingly positive. We are deliberately taking small steps here in the first year to make sure that we could get that kind of feedback and make corrections to 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. 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. 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. They are 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. 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. That is exactly what we are trying to do here. This program offers a real opportunity to take a lot more young people and have them share that kind of experience.

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?

TryEngineering Together incorporates both virtual communication and engagement with a volunteer that is interacting with a student. Volunteers can offer them their background experience such as stories about their professional engagement, how science has changed their lives, and hands-on in-classroom activities. 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. TryEngineering Together activities engage the teachers, engage the curriculum, and engage the mentors with 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?. Its tied into that holistic day that the teacher is designing, and it is not just STEM, but all the other things around it. The communication is in writing which reinforces other key skills. The topics that are discussed are directly relevant to the classroom experience. 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.