With a goal to develop a powerful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce for the future, education company, Cricket Media, and IEEE teamed up to create TryEngineering Together, an eMentorship platform based on developing technological skills. The unique program gives companies a resource to mobilize their employees as volunteers to educate the next generation of engineers, scientists, and technical professionals.
By leveraging the deep STEM knowledge of IEEE and Cricket Media’s STEM content, TryEngineering Together gives companies and their employees volunteer opportunities to engage online with students and teachers in grades three to five, particularly with those living in economically underserved communities.
“TryEngineering Together connects students with STEM professionals who inspire critical thinking and deep STEM learning by reading about and discussing important STEM topics together virtually,” Laura Woodside, vice president of Education Products at Cricket Media, told EBN.
Designed to achieve results, students and volunteers are matched one on one in eMentoring relationships to create safe STEM learning experiences. Guided by an interactive and thought-provoking curriculum, students and their eMentors read short articles related to STEM subjects and discuss hands-on activities that students are experiencing in class.
Employees who sign up to become eMentors undergo background checks and training to prepare for their roles, according to Woodside, who is also a national board-certified teacher and reading specialist. Once approved, the eMentor serves as a role model to the student in many ways: modeling high-quality writing and sharing of ideas, asking critical thinking questions, sharing real-world career and life connections, and lending STEM expertise. Overall, sessions will take up about two to three hours per month.
As for the teacher of the classroom, he or she will serve as the instructional leader in discussions and activities around the STEM topic and articles. The teacher will also serve as the gatekeeper, monitoring, reviewing, and approving of all of the letter exchanges between students and eMentors.
Because the demand for diverse STEM workers is continuously outpacing supply, TryEngineering Together believes that beginning the process of eMentoring students early on in grade school is especially important. Once students reach fourth grade, research shows one-third have lost interest in science, and by eighth grade. Meanwhile, nearly 50% lose interest or see STEM as irrelevant to their education or career plans.
“What separates TryEngineering Together from other eMentoring platforms is that it is designed to foster and sustain a quality learning friendship between the eMentor and mentee,” said Burt Dicht, director of IEEE Educational Activities’ Student and Academic Education Programs. “The initial exchanges are about introducing each other; the eMentor and mentee get a chance to describe their backgrounds and ask questions about school, work, hobbies and fun stuff.”
Students are highly motivated to learn through TryEngineering Together because it’s personalized learning and they own the experience. They choose what they read, what they write to their eMentors, and how they decorate their letters. They’re reading to communicate, to share ideas, explore questions, and build a relationship with an adult who truly wants to engage with them and cares about what they think. Woodside said students also learn through their letters because their eMentors model strong writing, share their own thinking about reading material, and provide personalized encouragement.
At its core, TryEngineering Together uses a series of educational units to introduce students to the engineering profession, the many types of STEM professions, the way engineers think, and the ubiquity and importance of science and engineering in their everyday world. The units are designed to build a foundational understanding of STEM principles.
“One of our units is on wind energy,” said Woodside. “The wind energy unit contains a teacher guide, five to seven topic articles, and a hands-on exercise. The teacher plays a critical role in the learning, as he or she will introduce the unit topic to the students in class through a read-aloud of an article, accompanied by a discussion to activate background knowledge and introduce necessary vocabulary.”
Students have the opportunity to select which articles they want to read with their eMentors. Through the platform, the eMentor is notified when the student selects articles to read. The eMentor then reads the same content and writes a letter to the student about the theme and major points. The eMentor gets a chance to discuss key points and ask the student questions and impressions about the article.
“When I look back on my career as an engineer, I am proud of the contribution I made to aerospace and the engineering profession,” said Dicht. “However, working on TryEngineering Together has been one of the most exciting programs I have ever been involved with, and that includes my aerospace experience. I am really looking forward to the program launch and the effect it will have on the future generation of engineers.”
Launching in January 2018, IEEE and Cricket Media are partnering with STEM focused companies to lead the launch of TryEngineering Together.