How IEEE Uses STEM Electronic Mentoring to Inspire the Next Generation of Engineers

Image of a female mentor sitting at her desk.
A TryEngineering Together mentor is writing a letter to her student.
Photo: Cricket Media

By: Johanna Perez

THE INSTITUTEIEEE TryEngineering Together is looking for volunteers to mentor children who are interested in pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

The program—an e-mentoring platform that connects industry professionals with children in third, fourth, and fifth grade—was developed in partnership with Cricket Media. IEEE TryEngineering Together incorporates both teacher-led, in-class activities and virtual communication and engagement with a volunteer who is remotely interacting with the student.

Volunteers have the opportunity to share their personal experiences, discuss how science has changed their life, and support hands-on in-classroom activities.

IEEE Executive Director Stephen Welby, an IEEE Fellow, spoke about the organization’s efforts in the “How IEEE Uses STEM eMentoring to Help Inspire the Next Generation of Engineers” webinar. Below is a selection of questions and responses from the webinar. 

How did you become interested in engineering?

Growing up, most of my family and neighbors had blue-collar jobs; they all worked with their hands. There was one neighbor in particular who was an engineer, and he inspired me to pursue a career in the field. He took the time to talk to me about his work and shared some technical magazines and journals with me.

It really made an impact on me—that someone I knew was able to succeed at doing creative engineering design work. When I was in school, I was very interested in math and science. Meeting someone who was working in engineering, someone who was using these disciplines every day, helped me to imagine myself pursuing a career in technology.

IEEE TryEngineering Together is a terrific opportunity for young people to receive that same kind of exposure to working engineers. Through providing students with e-mentors, we can show students that careers in STEM are attractive, rewarding, and fun.

Professional societies, such as IEEE, are invested in the next generation of STEM professionals. In attracting students to choose STEM paths, what challenges do you see from the IEEE perspective?

STEM talent will be critical to our collective and economic future. The next generation will be working to solve the major problems that face society, and it’s vital that we attract capable and devoted young people to these professions.

Many groups remain underrepresented in technical fields. This leads to a shortage of role models to inspire young people to consider careers in STEM.

It’s important for organizations, like IEEE, to connect students with role models and mentors who can help them recognize that STEM is going to be a welcoming and fulfilling field for them to be a part of.

The TryEngineering Together program addresses these needs with a focus on e-mentoringWith so many well-known benefits from face-to-face mentoring, what makes virtual mentoring different?

Face-to-face mentoring is important, and IEEE supports it. IEEE volunteers and staff are engaged in face-to-face mentoring programs around the world. These programs help bring STEM capabilities into local schools, but there are challenges to face-to-face mentoring, including time constraints and the ability to reach young people living in remote locations. 

E-mentoring allows students to use electronic means to engage, ask questions, and have a dialogue with their mentors, as pointed out in the IEEE TryEngineering Together ebook, “Introducing eMentoring.” Rather than having to commit time to traveling to in-person meetings, e-mentoring allows volunteers to engage with students directly from their desks, at work, or from their home. It is more convenient for both students and mentors.

One of the limitations with other mentoring activities is that they are not directly integrated into the classroom curriculum. IEEE TryEngineering Together projects engage teachers and mentors with hands-on activities. We actively work to integrate these experiences together in this program so that students and volunteers can enjoy the best of both worlds.

TryEngineering Together completed its first academic year. What type of feedback are you receiving?

To date, we have had more than 600 student and e-mentor pairs participate in the program. The feedback from the eMentors and students has been overwhelmingly positive, and we are ready to increase the number of participants.

We have had reports that students, after their experience with IEEE TryEngineering Together, are calling themselves future engineers. The students are imagining themselves in the roles of their e-mentors. We’ve inspired them to think about new paths they might not have considered before. This program offers a real opportunity to scale this outreach to a lot more young people and have them share that kind of experience. 

What would you share with an employee who might be interested in volunteering?

I would urge anyone considering volunteering with IEEE TryEngineering Together to watch some of the videos on the program’s website. In these videos, mentors, mentees, and teachers share their experiences about being in the program. IEEE TryEngineering Together also works with organizations that want to sponsor classrooms and that would like their employees to participate in the experience. It’s a great way to give back to their communities. 

Johanna Perez is the digital marketing specialist for IEEE Educational Activities.

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 25 October 2019.