STEM Mentors Alumni Meeting Crafts Blueprint for Action Plan

Posted on May 19, 2017
PAESMEM alumni gather for a group photo during the 2017 meeting in April.
PAESMEM alumni gather for a group photo during the 2017 meeting in April.

Nearly 50 mentors in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) gathered for a two-and-a-half-day meeting on April 5-7, in Arlington, Virginia, to develop a plan of action to address the continued need and importance of STEM mentoring for the nation’s STEM workforce.  

Participants attending the meeting, “STEM Mentoring 2030: Emerging Strategies for Inclusion,” included both Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) and  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Lifetime Mentor awardees. Convened by AAAS, the meeting focused on STEM mentoring expansion from a regional approach with attendees working in small groups to develop recommendations. The regions included Region 1 (Northwest, Pacific and Rocky Mountains); Region 2 (Southwest, Central Plains and Great Lakes); Region 3 (Southeast and Mid-Atlantic); and Region 4 (Northeast and New England).

According to Alumni Meeting Planning Committee Chair Dr. Joseph Skrivanek, addressing STEM mentoring needs from a regional perspective helped to facilitate not only greater collaboration with STEM mentors in close proximity, but also uncovered common recommendations expressed by colleagues across regions. Dr. Skrivanek is a professor of chemistry at State University of New York, Purchase, and founder and director of the Baccalaureate and Beyond Program (PAESMEM Organizational 2009). “Our region decided to form an alliance that will speak in unison and work to identify specific ways we can increase the numbers, retention and graduation rates of underrepresented groups in STEM,” said Skrivanek, who led the discussion for Region 4.

Dr. Cheryl Schrader (PAESMEM 2005), chancellor of Missouri University of Science and Technology and incoming President of Wright State University, said the meeting was an important “next step” in the ongoing effort to expand STEM mentoring to increase the ranks and diversity of STEM professionals. Schrader was part of a volunteer team of PAESMEM alumni who authored the 2006 white paper, “Mentoring for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Workforce Development and Lifelong Productivity: Success across the K through Grey Continuum.”

“Many of the recommendations we made in that document have been achieved,” said Schrader, citing the expansion of STEM educational programs throughout the Federal government and the creation of an online STEM mentoring community as examples of the recommendations that were realized. 

To build on that work, STEM mentor awardees at the meeting recommended additional actions aimed at increasing the diversity of students who pursue STEM degrees and are retained in the STEM workforce. A common recommendation across the regional groups was a desire to develop a speaker’s bureau that could share the merits of STEM mentoring best practices with a wider audience, particularly to STEM teachers and community organizations.   

Laura Bottomley (PAESMEM 2007), who convened Region 3 participants and directs the Women in Engineering program and The Engineering Place at North Carolina State University, said the concentration of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the region offers an opportunity to encourage STEM mentoring and interest for a key underrepresented demographic group. “We also talked about surveying members within our group to determine the top five STEM mentoring barriers or challenges currently faced by STEM mentors as part of building an outreach strategy,” said Bottomley.  

Regions 1 and 2 provided joint recommendations. Dr. Andrew Tsin (PAESMEM 2011), a professor of biochemistry and physiology as well as an associate dean of research at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, served as Region 2 Coordinator. Dr. Carol Muller, formerly of MentorNet (PAESMEM Organizational 2001), and Dr. Sheila Humphreys (PAESMEM 2012), director of diversity (emerita) in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, served as Region 1 coordinators. Tsin said group attendees stressed that “we need to have action items from every single alumni meeting and follow through at the next meeting.” Muller said Region 1 also recommended that the PAESMEM community advocate for effective STEM mentoring practices to become part of the training and evaluation of all faculty, particularly faculty teaching STEM courses.

Plenary panels and presentations featured STEM mentoring resources and opportunities for new or continued support for underrepresented groups in STEM disciplines at all STEM pathways as well as opportunities for acquiring and leveraging resources. An evening panel provided highlights of current research on mentoring topics and demonstrated the need for continued research on the topic of STEM mentoring. Dr. Christine Pfund also shared a web-based resource of the newly established program she directs—the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER). A white paper she authored also is available on PAESMEM.net.

In addition, Dr. John Warner (PAESMEM 2004), president of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, gave an entertaining plenary presentation about his drive to change chemistry department curricula to reduce the effects of harmful products on people and the environment.  To learn more about the green chemistry movement in education, click here.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Skrivanek said he looked forward to working with the STEM mentors alumni community to accomplish their recommendations. STEM mentoring resources from both the 2016 and 2017 alumni meetings are now available in the Resources section of PAESMEM.net, along with a photo slideshow.