Mentoring in Science and Engineering: Crowdsourcing Meets Gen-Y
By Connie Chow
As much as I am convinced that mentoring is essential for the success of women and underrepresented groups in science and engineering (and other fields), and have personally participated in and benefited from these relationships through MentorNet, in-person mentoring circles as well as one-on-one, the introvert in me has always found it hard to initiate such a relationship with "strangers". I am also suspicious that the 9-12 month commitment required for these relationships to be beneficial may be a deterrent for some, especially first-timers. I have also found that having an informal group of advisors have proven to be just as important in getting my varied questions answered.
That's why I see the great benefit of the 6-week program, WitsOn (Women in Technology Sharing Online). It's an online forum that connects women in academia and industry with college students across the country who are interested in STEM. Instead of having questions answered by one mentor, students have the benefit of over 300 women (distributed over the 6 weeks) share their experiences and insight. It has a short, fixed duration. It's a format that current students are very comfortable with, and like mentoring that leads to sponsorship, the online networking may lead to a job.
Even if it doesn't, this forum will show young people the plethora of pathways and careers in STEM. It will, if it lives up to its claims, show how these real women with real struggles have come to define their success.
Hopefully, this will be a gateway for participating professionals and students towards long-lasting mentoring relationships.
Connie Chow is the executive director of Science Club for Girls, a MA-based nonprofit that increases confidence and literacy in STEM in girls from K-12 grades. Dr. Chow received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and was a member of the biology department at Simmons College. Dr. Chow is a women's rights advocate and expert on international human rights. She is a member of the Back Bay Chorale.