Keshia Ashe, a Chemical Engineering doctoral candidate in the Institute of Regenerative Engineering at the UConn Health Center (UCHC), and recent UConn Biology graduate Tiffany St. Bernard, intend to use video mentoring to foster a more aware, prepared, and confident generation of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students.
The two recently co-founded ManyMentors, an online video mentoring site that matches college students from the STEM disciplines with high school students from traditionally underrepresented populations who are interested in STEM careers. Keshia explains that ManyMentors enables college mentors and their mentees to interact remotely, from any location, allowing mentees to gain knowledge, enhance skills, and develop the ambition to pursue STEM degrees.
The organization will hold a meeting for STEM-discipline students who are interested in serving as mentors on Thursday, February 2 at 7:00 p.m. in room 130 of the Biology/Physics Building on the UConn Storrs campus.
In addition to mentoring activities, each mentor-mentee pair may optionally participate in a STEM-based learning competition, New Explorations in Talent, or NEXT. In partnership with Concursive, a Virginia-based social enterprise software company, and CTiHub, a Connecticut-based business social networking platform, ManyMentors will support a virtual environment that enables mentor/mentee teams to collaborate virtually to design, re-create, engineer, or solve STEM challenges. The inaugural NEXT STEM Challenge will pit competing teams in solving a computer science and engineering problem that could directly impact many Fortune 500 companies.
In preparation for the official February launch of the organization, Keshia, Tiffany and their partners have begun to vet prospective mentors through a process that includes a preliminary online application on which candidates will name areas of expertise and answer the simple question, “Why do you want to be a mentor?” Candidates will be interviewed the ManyMentor principals, who will look for the right mix of skills, motivation and dedication to join the ManyMentors team. The potential mentees will also be evaluated before mentor/mentee pairings are made.
To ensure the success of the venture, Keshia notes that mentors will be expected to attend a meeting each month for mentor training, advice on troubleshooting, and exposure to educational/professional development talks. Similarly, mentees will be required to participate in online training programs. In this way, mentors and mentees alike will learn their roles and responsibilities. They will also complete regular surveys geared to determine the effectiveness of the mentoring sessions, identify friction points, and ensure the relationship has positive momentum and is helping to advance the students’ skills and ambitions. Monthly social activities at central locations will also enhance the student/mentor relationship.
Genesis of ManyMentors
ManyMentors arose from the personal experiences of both young women, who note they have benefited personally from strong mentorship that has and continues to contribute toward their successes.
Keshia was involved in a variety of youth advising groups from a young age that solidified her commitment to helping others. As a high school student, she found that her love of math and science suited her well to a degree program in Biomedical Engineering, and she earned a B.S. in the subject at the University of Virginia. Intent upon a career in research or academia, she decided to continue her studies at UConn as a Ph.D. student at UConn’s Institute for Regenerative Engineering, where she is thoughtfully advised and mentored by Dr. Cato Laurencin.
Throughout her undergraduate years and now, as a graduate student, she has remained active in mentoring. She became involved in the UCHC’s Health Careers Opportunities Program (UCHC-HCOP), through which she regularly visits and assists Hartford High School students in preparing for STEM studies and careers. Keshia remarks that she and her fellow mentors increasingly found themselves unable to answer every question the students asked about college options, the STEM studies and careers, and what preparation was needed. Even after they started bringing in guest speakers, they realized that the students’ mentorship needs exceeded what could be adequately delivered within the constraints of transportation and time limitations. Thus, the idea for ManyMentors was born.
Like Keshia, Tiffany was inspired by her own experience to become involved in mentoring. As a recent UConn graduate with a degree in Biology, she has been influenced by Dr. Ruth Washington, an Associate Professor-in-Residence of Molecular and Cell Biology who also oversees major initiatives at UConn aimed at increasing the diversity of the UConn STEM community. Tiffany’s positive experiences as the recipient of generous mentorship have motivated her to likewise make a difference in the lives of other students. As a mentor, she has been involved in a number of mentoring programs at UConn, and most recently served as a mentor for the Women in Math, Science and Engineering (WIMSE) learning community. Tiffany wholeheartedly believes “the best way to succeed is to have someone in your life who you can trust and who believes in you.” Tiffany credits Dr. Washington and Dr. Michael Smith, a chemistry professor who welcomed her as a student researcher within his laboratory, as instrumental in helping her define her academic pathway.