By The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum

Middle school girls and other curious students had the chance to meet with role models in STEM fields at STEM Mentoring Café—a morning of “speed mentoring” hosted by the Intrepid Museum on Saturday, November 14.

The STEM Mentoring Café series is an initiative established by the U.S. Departments of Energy and Education, the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC), and the National Girls Collaborative Project to address the critical shortage of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). STEM Mentoring Cafés were held at other ASTC member locations across the country, including at the Museum of Science and Industry in Florida, the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, and the Q?rius center at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The Intrepid Museum was a logical place to host a STEM Mentoring Café in New York City. The Museum is a leader in creating programs that engage girls in STEM and provide a pipeline of talent into STEM studies and careers. The Museum’s GOALS for Girls (Greater Opportunities Advancing Leadership and Science), which offers a six-week summer Intensive and weekend science programs for girls, has long had a mentoring component.

“By collaborating with the Department of Energy to host this STEM Mentoring Café, we were able to reach students beyond the 50 girls who participate in the GOALS program each year and the hundreds of alumnae from the past eight years who still come back for events like Girls in Science and Engineering Day,” said Dr. Lynda Kennedy, the Intrepid Museum’s vice president of education. “This Café engaged many kids who are younger or older than the students we work with in GOALS, and boys were welcome, too!”

After remarks by Dr. Kennedy, Special Advisor Juana Silverio of the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity and ORISE Science and Technology Policy Fellow, Melinda Higgins, the mentoring got underway. Coming with schools, Girl Scout troops and with families, 130 students each met with up to 10 different STEM role models in eight-minute intervals to learn about their experiences and career trajectories. The 15 mentors who participated in the program represented a range of professions, including formal and informal science educators, researchers and NASA employees. College students also served as mentors. They shared their journeys so far, including which high school classes they focused on, how they chose their colleges and what challenges they have faced. As they met with each mentor, students recorded their experiences in booklets. Later they had time to share some of what they learned. Parents, group leaders, and teachers who accompanied the students received materials from the Department of Energy on ways to increase their students’ energy literacy as well as materials outlining NASA and Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum educational resources. After the event, all participants were welcome to explore the museum.

The STEM Mentoring Café series has provided much-needed opportunities for underrepresented groups to encounter STEM careers and find encouragement to pursue them. Programs like these support the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum’s ongoing mission to educate the public and inspire our youth.