NACME BLOG

New Approaches to Enlisting More Mentors and Teachers

CornerOffice

June 4, 2015

 

Every May I send out a personal letter to each of NACME’s graduating seniors congratulating them on achieving their bachelor’s of engineering degree. Each new diploma is not only a personal accomplishment for the student, but also something that the larger NACME family can be proud of. This year, I am happy to report that I sent out 428 letters to graduating underrepresented minorities who benefited from NACME Scholarships.

Along with my congratulations, I ask these students to stay involved with NACME and to find ways to mentor the next generation. Role models are especially needed in underrepresented communities. With the excitement and demands of a first job, it can be hard to find time to give back. At a breakfast meeting with new NACME Scholars at the University of Arkansas this month, I was impressed that all of the students I spoke with already had jobs lined up with lucrative starting salaries, and one with our board company —ExxonMobil, or were continuing their studies. While I was excited for them, I could also see that they would need to turn their energies toward establishing themselves on the job before considering how they could volunteer in a mentoring role.

One idea for connecting young underrepresented minorities with successful professionals was beautifully exhibited recently at the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture (CTEA), one of NACME’s Partner High Schools, in Queens, N.Y. During the CTEA’s Career Day on May 8th, High School Juniors had the opportunity to meet with engineering professionals. Students in a robotics class, for example, met with three young African American engineers who work for Sikorsky, an aircraft corporation. When young people see successful professionals who look like them, it is much easier for them to consider following a similar career path.

Perhaps the best STEM mentors are middle and high school teachers. Building diversity in the American STEM pipeline will require that we rapidly address the shortage of STEM teachers in underrepresented communities. One innovative approach that many states have adopted to quickly get more qualified STEM professionals into classrooms in underrepresented communities is to give working professionals in the STEM field temporary teaching credentials while they gradually earn a full teaching license via an alternative route. The California Teacher Corps and the Massachusetts “MINT” programs offer variations on this approach. And organizations such as Teach for America and Math for America employ slightly different approaches to achieve the same important goal.

The common thread that weaves together programs such as Career Day at the CTEA and the California Teacher Corps is the recognition that connecting promising STEM students from underrepresented communities with worthy mentors and teachers calls for innovative new approaches. Or, as the old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”