As part of our ongoing series focusing on the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) statewide STEM Challenge, this guest blog will focus on a technical solution to solving a big undertaking—getting volunteers to work with students on STEM and “soft” skills. While there are many, many great stories about corporate and other businesspeople volunteering their time and talent to assist students, the reality is that schedules are challenging—for both the businesspeople (travel, meetings, their own family commitments) and for the students (sports, homework, part-time jobs). Understanding that a critical element to success in the STEM Challenge process is connecting adult role models to the students, the ISTI developed the Mentor Matching Engine (MME) which helps solve scheduling issues and encourages online dialog.
The Microsoft team supporting Lake View High School is excited to be participating this year using the MME. It certainly looks like a great solution for busy people, who still want to support our youth. We have a dozen volunteers who are getting registered on MME, which will be used to supplement in person mentoring at Lake View High School. We are looking forward to the combination of virtual and 1:1 mentoring!
— Shelley Stern Grach
This year, 29 high schools are part of the R&D STEM Learning Exchange (RDLE) – a public private partnership led by the Illinois Science & Technology Institute to better connect high schools and industry to increase interest in STEM careers. RDLE serves as an intermediary to catalyze collaboration between these groups through solving real-world problems and facilitating project-based mentoring.
One of the ways RDLE is expanding mentoring opportunities is through the Mentor Matching Engine (MME) – an online platform developed by ISTI in partnership with the Illinois Math & Science Academy. MME connects Illinois high school students and their teachers to STEM professionals virtually to support and enhance student-led research through mentoring. MME allows mentors and students to connect in a way that reduces transaction costs for all. Students and mentors can collaborate anytime, anywhere.
Students working on STEM Challenges, such as Microsoft’s Challenge partner Lake View High School or those conducting independent research are exposed to multiple perspectives along the STEM pipeline through project-based mentorships with a STEM professional. By using examples from their own organizations and experience, mentors provide perspective on how STEM is applied beyond the classroom, giving students insight into the potential impact and reach of their projects and applications in the real world.
Research is student driven. Students explore a topic of interest by developing a question that can be answered through an investigative process. Teachers help to guide students through the research process, but let them seek out resources and develop their own solutions. Through MME, students request mentors with relevant subject matter expertise to provide guidance about their topic in a discussion format with features like document sharing and video conferencing.
Mentors from partner organizations, like Microsoft, are able to supplement in-person visits with students or even have a fully virtual mentorship through MME. Students are able to consistently go to their mentors for guidance and receive real-time responses, regardless of where their mentors are located.
At ISTI, we are excited about connecting the classroom with tools like the Mentor Matching Engine as we prepare the next generation of problem solvers.
The Illinois Science & Technology Institute (ISTI) leads the R&D STEM Learning Exchange. ISTI is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit and an affiliated complementary effort to the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition. The ISTI was established to enhance opportunities for philanthropic public-private partnerships and to develop and deliver educational programming.
Allie Scully Barwise is Managing Director for the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI). Allie leads program development, strategic planning, and external relations for the R&D STEM Learning Exchange.
Prior to joining the ISTI in 2013, Allie was with the Clinton Global Initiative, primarily focused on education issues and domestic economic recovery. She also worked for a boutique content and communications firm to develop programming for The Economist, and contributed to communications projects for Wikipedia, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Allie holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Development Studies from McGill University.
Emily Cooper is Director of Programs for the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI). Emily’s primary focus is on managing the R&D STEM Learning Exchange programs and professional development. Prior to joining ISTC, Emily was a Legal Assistant at Purcell & Wardrope, Chtd. and Hauselman, Rappin & Olswang, Ltd. She developed a passion for education while tutoring students in both Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Emily earned her Master of Public Policy degree with a concentration in Education Policy from American University, and holds a B.A. from Indiana University Bloomington.