Dr. Holdren, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director, speaks at the January 20, 2013 Interagency Mentoring and STEM Open House.

In honor of National Mentoring Month, last Friday the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Education, Labor, Agriculture, and Energy, the Office of Personnel Management, the National Science Foundation, and the Corporation for National and Community Service jointly hosted a day-long interagency mentoring open house at Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) headquarters in Washington, DC.

The event attracted hundreds of people, many in town for the weekend’s Inauguration events. Twenty national mentoring organizations participated throughout the day by exhibiting, attending sessions, and leading workshops.

The program focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, and featured hands-on workshops, interactive exhibits, and presentations by senior cabinet officials, who recounted the difference that mentors had made in their lives.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta kicked off the event by sharing the value of mentoring in his life. Senior Administration officials, including Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Dr. John Holdren, senior advisor to the President on Science and Technology, also shared their mentoring experiences.

Secretary LaHood spoke about the Department of Transportation’s partnership with Spelman College in Atlanta to launch a pilot program that encourages more young women to pursue a STEM career, as well as the nationwide Raise Award competition that the Department of Transportation launched last year to motivate high school and college age students to develop innovative solutions to aviation and aerospace issues. 

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu offered keynote remarks at the final session of the day, speaking about his professors, colleagues, and thesis advisor who took him under their wings throughout his STEM career. His mentors are now close friends who he considers to be part of his ‘large scientific family.’ Secretary Chu encouraged the attendees of the Interagency Mentoring and STEM open house to pursue these deep and lasting mentors in their lives, and contribute the growth of STEM future professionals.

Highlighting the President’s strong commitment to moving students from the middle to the top of the pack in math and science, Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, emphasized the critical role that these fields play in addressing many of the challenges facing the nation. In his remarks to the first afternoon session, he also recognized the impact that mentors have been shown to have on those whose participation in STEM fields historically has been low, such as women and underrepresented minorities.

Workshop topics ranged from aviation and space education to virtual mentoring and how to get girls involved in STEM. The sense of excitement and wonder was palpable throughout the day.

One important mentoring tip that was shared was that you don’t have to do an hour a week; just show up once in a while to support an event. That’s much easier, and you wouldn’t believe what a big difference it makes.

A special emphasis was also placed on dispelling common misperceptions about the type of people who have STEM careers. Scientists and engineers are no longer confined to white lab coats and petri dishes or to working alone with a computer – STEM careers include all aspects of the transportation industry, space exploration, marine biology, agriculture, robotics, and more.  

One participant stated, “Once students realize how broad the range of career possibilities is for people who like science and math, that light bulb goes on, and there’s no turning it off.”

At the conclusion of the event, each attendee was invited to sign a mentoring pledge card as a call-to-action upon their return to their communities.

Each of us can mentor a child by sharing our interests, excitement, and passion. The impact of our inspiration on someone else can greatly influence their life choices, as well as enrich our own.

To get STEM mentoring tips, visit www.serve.gov to download the Corporation for National Community Service’s STEM Mentoring Toolkit. This brand-new toolkit offers the basics to connect with STEM programs across the country, recruit a team, and make an impact.