Fast Company

Teen Spirit for STEM & Innovation: mentors are key

I continue to be inspired by teens – the desire of youth to make the world a better place is gratifying, and what’s even more refreshing is their capacity for real action and air of optimism.

Clearly, we need more adults engaged as mentors for our youth, especially in educational settings. The need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) role models is especially acute. It’s crucial that these role models are relevant and accessible – through the media and direct interaction – and so not to be too discouraging at the front-end of the STEM bottleneck, the role models and examples we use shouldn’t be the over-achievers to which we typically turn. They should be you and me.

Just last week, the Lemelson-MIT Program announced the results of The Invention Index, an informal survey to gauge the country’s perceptions of invention and innovation. This year we asked U.S. teens about why they would pursue a career in the STEM fields – areas central to invention – and were humbled by how much teens are motivated by altruism over materialism. Of the teens who expressed interest in these fields (85 percent!), more than half (56 percent) identified “protecting the environment” or “improving our society” as their inspiration; only 18 percent stated that STEM was of-interest so they could become rich or famous.

This is great news. However, well over half of the teens said that they lack STEM mentors and role models and some said they didn’t know anyone in the STEM field.

This need must be addressed. I urge you to volunteer as a STEM mentor in your community. How to start? Ask your company’s community relations group or your alma mater about opportunities. Or, simply pick-up the phone and call a local school or afterschool program.

With opportunity, inspiring role models, and the encouragement of teachers and mentors, young people will continue to think and do amazing things.

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