Carrie Seltzer, a research scientist and program manager at the National Geographic Society, encourages students to explore biodiversity. Source: National Geographic/Winn Brewer/Allison Taylor

what's next?

- The STEM Mentoring Cafés attract area middle schools for a speed-mentoring model, where STEM professionals inspire kids with interactive learning experiences about careers in science and technology. Mentors are still needed at upcoming cafés around the country, and educators are invited to register students.
-Two cafés are slated for March, at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado and at the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
- Two more are scheduled for April, at the Houston Children’s Museum in Texas and at the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, California.

Take a peek at a Mentoring Café in action in Richland, Washington last November.

What will motivate America’s youth to reach for high-demand jobs in growing industry sectors? By sharing the excitement of cutting-edge careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), professionals are helping dreams take shape for these young people. The Energy Department – in collaboration with public and private partners – sponsors a fun, interactive initiative called the STEM Mentoring Café to expose students to STEM careers. We caught up with the EERE Education team at the February event hosted at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

Linda Silverman, an EERE economist and senior policy advisor, met with students there to talk about careers in energy. “I loved the enthusiasm of the kids at this event," she said. "It was interesting to hear what they knew about energy and the questions they thought were important. The kids are inspiring, and their enthusiasm bodes well for our future workforce.”

The Mentoring Cafés are helping the Energy Department introduce new career possibilities to middle school students and their teachers nationwide. Twenty scientists and STEM professionals – from the Energy Department, NASA, BP, and National Geographic, to name a few – engaged in show-and-tell chats with 5th- through 8th- graders to impress on them how their studies can lead to accomplishing great things. February’s event was the ninth in a series and drew 90 students from schools in the national capital region.

The venue is also part of the magic. In partnership with the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC), museums across the country volunteer to host the Mentoring Cafes, and many open their doors free of charge to students after the event. Participating museums include the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum in New York City and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. 

While the events are open to all, the Mentoring Cafés are especially geared toward students historically underrepresented in STEM fields. One focus is on matching girls with female STEM professionals. Today, for instance, only a quarter of the STEM workforce is female, although females make up more than half of America’s labor pool. Research shows that girls overwhelmingly express interest in STEM at young ages, but as they progress past middle school it is all too common for them to opt out of STEM classes and majors. To supply a critical turning point at this vital age, STEM Mentoring Cafés entertain role models who look like them and can share insights into the power and possibility of technology futures.

The Energy Department’s Economic Impact and Diversity Office leads the initiative. Its director, the Honorable La Doris Harris, noted, “What better way to spark the interest and curiosity of girls and boys – especially those in underserved communities – than to expose them first hand to scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.” The speed mentoring model, explained Harris, allows each of the students to be front and center with these outstanding leaders, giving them a sneak preview of the unlimited possibilities for our youth and inspiring them to become the next generation of STEM innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders. “Our experiences impact our trajectory,” she said, “so let's fulfill our responsibility to help shape the lives of our kids.”

Through partnerships with the Department of Education, Corporation for National and Community Service, ASTC, and the National Girls Collaborative Project, the Energy Department is committed to facilitating STEM Mentoring Cafés across the country.

Learn about STEM Mentoring Cafés or read more about Education and workforce opportunities at the Energy Department.