Michael Wyss proceeds from the starting point that a good mentor helps students understand how they can learn from their errors or their initial misconceptions and then leads them to formulate new and exciting questions that they can research. It is in that context (rather than always getting it right) that he feels mentees experience the “aha moment” that changes their thinking and sometimes changes their world. Those moments are very rewarding for the mentor and of great importance to the mentee scientist-in-the-making.
Dr. Wyss began his lifelong passion for mentoring when he was an undergraduate. He encouraged kids who had dropped out of middle school to re-enter the education pathway, graduate from high school, and enter college. During his last 20 years at the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), Dr. Wyss has incorporated into his mentoring a significant focus on K-12 underrepresented minority students and their teachers. K-12 mentoring often focuses on high school students to prepare them for college success. Dr. Wyss’ focus is to open more widely the pathway to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers for these students.
Dr. Wyss’s K-12 outreach program, the Center for Community OutReach Development (CORD) works with students at all grade levels, inspiring and engaging them in STEM subjects and preparing them to compete at the high school level. For the past decade, he has aggressively expanded CORD’s programs and thereby increased UAB’s mentoring of students and teachers in Alabama and the Southeast. In 2003, UAB’s K-12 STEM education outreach comprised about 2,000 students and 20 teachers per year. In Dr. Wyss’ 12 years as Director of CORD programs, he has offered effective STEM education, engagement and mentoring to more than 100,000 students and 4,000 teachers in eight states and three countries. The programs he manages allowed him to mentor about 1,000 UAB students and postdocs, and 400 faculty to be advocates for, and participants in, excellent STEM education and mentoring at all K-20 levels.
His STEM leadership activities include:
- Director of the NSF-Robert Noyce project at UAB
- Chair of the American Physiological Society’s Education Committee
- Director of the Alabama Science and Engineering Fair
- Leader of the Alabama Chemistry Olympiad and the Alabama Brain Bee