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STEM Mentoring with Denver High School Students

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By: Sophia Kim and Kayla Nocon, Undergraduate Students, Biological Sciences 

Article  •
ACE Grant  •

Through DU’s collaboration with Westminster High School (WHS), we established a focused mentoring program with current DU STEM students and WHS senior students. A total of 33 DU undergraduates mentored 67 WHS senior students, creating a total of 21, 35-50 minute mentoring sessions that were held throughout the academic year of 2020-2021. Throughout the year, eight guests were invited to speak to the WHS students on FAFSA, diversity and representation, and different health professions. Overall, the program was designed to strengthen and broaden the mentees’ understanding about college and the field of STEM. 

As a result, we were able to create meaningful mentoring relationships, and build mentee and mentor confidence. Many of the mentees expressed that they were feeling better equipped for college and felt more confident and informed, as many mentees were first-generation students. Specifically, students grew in a personal and more professional manner with the different topics discussed during the mentoring sessions and the guest speaker sessions. For example, they’ve come to understand the breakdown of college financial aid better, work-study, different types of colleges, academic professionalism, etc. They’ve also shown a change in behavior where they began to engage and participate more by turning their cameras on during mentoring sessions, unmuting themselves to talk, asking questions, and utilizing the chat function as much as they can. The exit tickets, a short survey that both the mentors and mentees filled out, served as a way to evaluate the mentoring sessions. It consisted of three questions that reflected on the mentoring session, allowing the mentors and mentees to share their thoughts, what they learned and ask additional questions. One response from a student stated, “I learned that it’s okay to have your differences with what everyone else in the world has an opinion on because eventually one day you will be the leader of that difference and be able to guide others through that.” Another mentee wrote, “I was thinking of going to a community college and then moving on to something bigger but now I think I might apply for scholarships and go to a four year university.” Through the content each mentor created and the experiences they shared, it allowed the mentees to see different perspectives of life through college, widening their insight as a result. 

Although the program has influenced the mentees’ development in pursuing higher education positively, the mentors, including both of us, have grown significantly as well. To begin with, the mentors had a similar exit ticket to respond to where they could also reflect on their sessions. One mentor’s reflection showed the relationship they built with a certain mentee and their group, “One of my students told me about his personal life and I felt like I had gained a strong connection with him and all my mentees. All my mentees talked and were very engaged. They told me they liked all the advice I gave and how I always tried answering everyone’s questions and gave advice to everything so they appreciated that. One of them said they were able to joke around with me and felt comfortable.” Another mentor shared, “Today I surprised myself. I was able to share some of the experiences with my mentees that I usually do not share with many people, which include my experience with imposter syndrome and the connections I have formed with certain professors.” As part of the program, the DU mentors signed up for a week to lead and discuss resources they found for the following week of mentoring during the debrief sessions, aiding in the growth of the mentors and their confidence as leaders. We’ve also personally grown more confidence as student leaders by leading the weekly mentor debrief sessions and discussions, and facilitating guest speaker panels/sessions. In addition, we’ve also grown by being supportive figures; filling in whenever problems or mishaps occurred, coming up with the mentoring syllabus, creating our own mentoring sessions content, and answering or helping other DU STEM mentors. In that way, we developed professional, personal, and program development skills. Professionally, we were able to participate in meetings with Mr. Chuck Gross (executive director of Adams County Education Consortium), meetings with WHS staff and faculty, and also part-take in interviews regarding our mentorship. Further, we developed personal skills including organization, facilitation, time management, and adaptive skills. Through such skills, we were able to solidify teamwork and communication skills, which contributed to building program developmental skills such as planning for the sessions and researching content. Finally, as mentors, we have come to be transparent and vulnerable while sharing our experiences with college, including both the successes and failures. Our mentees expressed that they gained great insight and a more holistic or well-rounded view of what the college experience looks like. 

As individuals who have been both student leaders and mentors for the established program and partnership, we will continue to strive to be a part of this platform. We hope to stay in touch with WHS for the mentorship to contribute as much as we can, in wisdom, knowledge and experience. We also strive to continue being mentors in other platforms with any future opportunities, as we have both experienced the influence of mentorship in power, amplitude and depth. In the ways that we have learned to grow as leaders, we hope to expand our leadership skills and apply it to other aspects of our professional careers, so that we can continue to grow. Moreover, we have learned and grown much through our own mentees about who we are as individuals, and as we work towards our career goals, we hope to be mentees to also expand our knowledge that way. In that regard, as we have worked to share our experiences with our mentees, we hope to take our own pieces of advice and what we’ve learned through our college experience to grow in our future in positive ways for what we strive to become. This mentorship was disseminated to the community through pre/post-mentoring surveys, in which the DU STEM student mentors were able to share their mentorship progress. These surveys were designed to touch upon mentors’ thoughts on mentoring, their prior experience in mentoring or receiving mentoring, what they hope to learn/achieve through this mentorship and how they plan on applying what they learned in the future both professionally or personally. Additionally, mentors also had to build their own digital portfolio, as they had to collect artifacts that could either be physical or digital. These artifacts served as evidence of their participation or contribution through the mentorship, in which they were to share all of this through the platform of DU Portfolio to reflect and record their weekly mentorship sessions and mentor debrief sessions. This not only collected actual data on the mentorship experience to strengthen and support our goals of the program, it also served as an academic outlet because all mentors were to present their portfolios to each other. This portfolio was especially reflective of the mentors’ mentoring experience, as they needed to reference literature, share their assets/skills learned or improved, growth they experienced, and how they’ll apply what they learned to their future career. Overall, these means were a platform to share the valuable experience of mentorship in STEM, supporting the development of next generation healthcare providers. It also exemplified how remote mentoring can be just as powerful, bringing promising impacts to our Colorado community.