By Devin Partida
Image source: https://unsplash.com/
Mentoring any student can be a challenge, even for the most experienced and well-rounded educators.
When you think about the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM, it may seem intimidating to lead by example for young, impressionable students. However, it’s an investment that’s worth considering when educating students about STEM topics.
Unfortunately, many STEM professionals never receive formal training on mentorship, but there are plenty of benefits to reap for both the mentor and mentee.
In addition, you’re probably aware of the racial and gender disparities between students. We need solid mentorship programs in K-12 schools to overcome these disparities, encourage all types of students to pursue STEM-related careers, and help them achieve their potential.
Let’s go over six tips that can help you mentor your STEM students to the best of your ability.
1. Establish Trust
Trust is something that takes time and patience to maintain, and the same goes for you and your STEM students.
Establishing a trusting relationship with your students will make you an overall better mentor. When students know they can trust you with personal information, especially if it’s academic-related, you’re setting them up for success.
Being a mentor is more than just sharing your knowledge of STEM, but rather a collaborative relationship built on trust. Be sure to explain to your students that trust is a two-way street — you should be able to trust them just as much as they trust you.
2. Engage in Active Listening
If you’re not yet aware, active listening is defined as listening intently as someone speaks, fostering more positive interactions. There are many benefits to active listening, but here’s a quick list:
- Validates the person you’re conversing with.
- Allows you to hear someone else’s perspective.
- Fosters a positive relationship.
- Makes speakers want to speak longer.
Overall, it’s essential to encourage your STEM students to actively listen to you during discussions or presentations. It would be best to learn to speak with your students, not at them, as this can cause an adverse reaction. Rather, see your academic relationship as a collaborative effort, not you teaching them directly.
Be sure to avoid interrupting your students and allow them to speak in complete sentences — that’s key in active listening.
3. Embrace “Stupid” Questions
Sometimes asking an academic question, especially regarding STEM topics, can be highly intimidating for students. There’s a lot of ambiguity surrounding STEM, and it’s your job to try and make the topics more approachable for your students.
It would be best to always embrace all questions your students ask and validate them — this will help improve their confidence and self-esteem.
No question is stupid, and make sure your students understand that. By asking valuable questions, everyone can learn something new. Also, it’s likely that if one student asks a question, another student will have had the same question in mind.
4. Make Resource Recommendations
Following up on our last point, it’s crucial to use outside resources when educating students about STEM. Because the topics are constantly changing in the real world, you must keep your students well-informed about recent news in the field of technology, for example, as we all know that new tech is developing at a rapid rate.
Being a good mentor does not necessarily mean you have a perfect answer to every question. Sometimes, it means gathering vital research information and sharing it with your students to raise more questions, spark discussions, and get the gears in their brains turning.
5. Practice Empathy
Most anyone knows that empathy is a highly sought-after characteristic in a human. Being able to put yourself in the shoes of another person is a valuable skill. And as a mentor, it’s one you’ll use often.
Do your best to relate to your students positively and try to see things from their point of view. It could impact your life in surprising ways, in addition to your student’s lives.
If a student is struggling with a specific subject or not succeeding in class, be sure to reach out to them to try and understand their feelings. This is putting empathy into practice, and before you know it, your students will be more open with you.
6. Ask for Feedback Regularly
As mentioned earlier, STEM mentoring should be viewed as a collaborative effort. Any mentor knows that receiving feedback from your mentees will help you improve your mentoring skills.
Positive and negative feedback is vital to your journey as a mentor, and each tidbit of feedback should be taken in stride. Be sure to find actionable ways to improve your mentoring skills, and you’ll notice an improvement in your mentoring relationships.
Mentoring in STEM
As more STEM-related career opportunities present themselves, it’s crucial to prepare our future leaders. By taking on the role of a STEM mentor, you’re doing your best to do just that. Follow the six recommendations listed above, and you’ll be ready to mentor your STEM students and foster positive academic relationships.
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