Inspiring Youth: The Critical Role of Science Mentors


How do we inspire and encourage American youth to pursue careers in science?  A recent report from the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that a very simple approach – engaging more university and industry scientists in mentorship programs for youth – may be an important part of the solution.

In a telephone survey of 500 American high school youth, the Lemelson Program found a high level of interest in science  - 85%.  But nearly two out of three students indicated that they were not likely to pursue a career in science because they either did not understand what scientists do, or they did not have a mentor in science.

Those of us in the science community who had mentors as young adults - including me - understand the power of this approach. There's nothing quite like the experience of getting to know a "real scientist" who inspires you. Seeing that scientists are not all geeky, or introverted, or unapproachable is a revelation to many kids. In fact, this idea is the fundamental principle behind our own NU science mentorship program we run with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago. I'll share more about "Science Club" in my upcoming posts.



I agree with an editorial published in the January issue of Science, as well. Equally as important as examining the education of science is exploring the science of education. That is to say that there's a lot about the way we teach that can be examined, tested, and refined. Applying the principles of scientific research to the methodology of our teaching could likely tell us a lot about what's working and what isn't. If mentoring is quantifiably better then it should be expanded upon, and if data can show that growing class sizes are, in fact, bad for leaning then they should be reduced.

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