ISEE Mentor Workshop: Preparing mentors to design and facilitate productive projects in the STEM workplace


The ISEE/Akamai Mentor Workshop has integrated nearly two decades of experience in developing, researching, and refining professional development and workforce development programs. In STEM, mentoring is widely regarded as a key process for bringing new people into the field, and often involves an apprentice (student) completing a research or technical project with guidance from a mentor. We emphasize a focus on student explanations and helping develop a student’s STEM identity In addition, ISEE  has developed a nuanced understanding of skills needed in a variety of STEM fields and career paths. We have drawn from our resources to develop mentoring tools (e.g. frameworks, mentor plans).

Participants in the 2018 ISEE-Akamai Mentor Workshop design student projects, and develop a flexible menu of resources and considerations for productively engaging their students in project work. We consider a productive project to be one that is educational for the student and addresses an authentic need of the mentor and their organization. The workshop supports mentors in planning a productive project through pre-planned, designed aspects of the project in addition to considering in-the-moment interactions with the student. These designed and in-the-moment pieces of a mentor plan are addressed in three important themes:  

  1. Developing STEM Identity & Growth Mindset: We discuss how beliefs and biases about learning and achievement (both of the student and mentor) affects students, as well as how STEM identity development can increase persistence in STEM. Projecting high expectations and conveying equitable views of learning, in conjunction with creating supportive environments, can help students approach intelligence as a malleable trait rather than a fixed trait. For individuals from non-dominant groups in STEM, developing an identity as a person in STEM can be particularly difficult to achieve and/or maintain, leading to those individuals leaving STEM despite interest and ability in the field. The complex interplay of factors involved in identity formation and one’s sense of belongingness is an important consideration when bringing students into STEM environments. We discuss research papers on growth mindset and STEM identity  and how we can apply these concepts to equitable and inclusive mentoring practices. 
  2. STEM Practices & Ownership of Learning: The projects that mentors design and facilitate for students mirror authentic scientific inquiry or engineering design as carried out in actual STEM environments. Reasoning and problem-solving skills, often referred to as STEM practices, are highly valued in the workplace and include designing within requirements, defining a problem, explaining results using data, and supporting a solution by evaluating tradeoffs. A key component of students learning STEM practices is not just doing them, but simultaneously reflecting on what the practice is, how and when it is used, how it is transferable to other contexts, and what is challenging about it. Students should also have the opportunity to take initiative over engaging in the practice, with mentors engaged in a dialog that is responsive to the student and encourages discussion, as opposed to declarative interactions. In the workshop, mentors will consider which STEM practices will provide the most opportunity for choice and challenge that will foster student ownership.
  3. Assessment: Another focus of the workshop is how mentors can assess a student’s background knowledge and skills in ways that enable the identification of gaps and strengths, and to create an experience that will challenge the student as they progress towards completing the project. Assessments should happen throughout the course of the project, as opposed to just at the beginning and/or end. Assessments can be tasks or mini-projects that promote student learning while making their skills and thinking visible to the mentor. Mentors can also access a student’s thinking in-the-moment through open-ended questions or other verbal and non-verbal “moves”. Together, these assessments of student knowledge and skills allow the mentor to make appropriate interventions that move the student towards project completion, while still respecting their current thinking and ownership over the process.

Through engaging in the three themes above, participants leave the workshop with a mentoring plan that includes: 1) a project design; 2) on-the-fly moves they plan to employ; 3) specific strategies to create a supportive environment. They will then put their plan into practice as they mentor a student.


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