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.