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STEM Mentoring Through a Virtual Platform

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By: Barb Hurtt, Teaching Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

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two male students looking at a computer

LDRS 3980 STEM Mentoring Internship is the community-engaged course I taught/facilitated throughout the 2020-21 academic year (Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters) and was the focus of my “Teaching in Covid-19 times” project. This internship was a collaboration between DU and Adams County Westminster High School (WHS) biomedical innovations class. One purpose of the internship was to provide DU STEM undergraduates a learning and leadership opportunity through the mentoring collaboration with WHS seniors enrolled in a Biomedical Innovations course. Another purpose was to build upon evidence of near peer mentoring in improving STEM interest, readiness, and success in STEM college majors for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds. When this community-engaged opportunity was originally conceived during the 2019-20 academic year, it was envisioned as an in-person opportunity. However, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically and rapidly changed the strategy by which we planned and engaged in mentoring.   

Our partnership with WHS faculty Scott Troy (biomedical innovations teacher) was one of the most constructive community-engaged partnerships I could imagine. Scott and his fellow biomedical innovations colleagues were extremely supportive of trying this near peer mentoring despite the fact that it would be offered solely via Zoom/MS Teams due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Two DU seniors, Sophia Kim and Kayla Nocon, served as stellar mentor leaders for the other DU mentors as well as mentors for some of the WHS students. Sophia and Kayla were awarded a DU Grand Challenges ACE Grant for Winter and Spring quarters to support the program, and recruited a wonderful third mentor leader, Collette Hong. The program would not have been nearly as successful as it was without their drive, focus, and creativity in helping develop this brand new program. Although the vast majority of the mentors were Biological Sciences major or minors, we hope to expand and recruit students from other DU STEM majors in future years.   

We ultimately had 21 DU STEM undergraduates mentor 64 WHS seniors. We completed extensive assessment including weekly “exit tickets” for both the high school and college students, quarterly assessments via Qualtrics surveys for the DU undergraduates along with portfolios each quarter, and both written surveys as well as face to face interviews (via their teacher) with the high school students.   

The challenges of doing a fully remote mentoring program were significant – we had connection issues, challenges with the WHS students being at school versus at home (especially during the Fall quarter), cameras not being turned on, uncertainty of what topics would be valuable to discuss, how to promote participation and engagement, and, of course, the challenge of trying to form purposeful and meaningful relationships between high school and college students over video when they were never able to meet in person. All that being said, anecdotal reports indicate that this was a very valuable experience for all participants; the qualitative and quantitative data collected are expected to be analyzed summer 2021 to inform future planning for the continuation of the STEM Mentoring program for the 2021-22 academic year.  

This reflection was completed during the 2020-2021 “Faculty Fellows: Community-Engaged Teaching in COVID Times” program. To learn about this year’s Community of Practice, please visit our website here. The program was a collaborative effort organized by the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning, the University Writing Program, and the Office of Teaching and Learning and was generously supported by DU Academic Affairs.


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