Middle Grades Career Mentors: Digital Resources for Effective CTE STEM Mentoring
This project will advance efforts of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program to better understand and promote practices that increase students' motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) by developing a suite of digital tools designed to support positive messaging around skill-based education and careers and to improve mentors' communication with middle school-aged youth mentees. Maintaining U.S. economic advantage requires attracting talent to high-growth, high-demand skill-based, STEM-related careers that are traditionally attained through Career and Technical Education (CTE). Replacing old negative perceptions with new, more accurate messages about CTE and then reaching youth with these messages before high school is essential. Career-focused mentoring is a vehicle for delivering these messages and supporting youth exploration of CTE as a possible path for their own lives. Investigators will explore the hypothesis that through strong connections between those best positioned to articulate industry needs (mentors) and those most receptive to filling that need (mentees), this project will improve youth awareness and interest in CTE and the rewarding careers that are available to them. Research and development activities will be carried out collaboratively in informal learning environments in Boston and New York City that serve middle school-aged youth from underrepresented communities, through career-focused mentoring programs. The project team, led by media producers of the WGBH Education Foundation, includes market researchers and communications strategists at Global Strategy Group, learning scientists at Education Development Center, and mentorship program partners at SkillsUSA, Learning for Life's Middle School Explorer Clubs, and Boy Scouts of America's Scoutreach. If promising, the career-focused mentoring programs of SkillsUSA, Learning for Life, and Boy Scouts of America will incorporate the messaging roadmap and digital tools to support their mentoring curricula, which impact greater than one million youth in each year.
In the first phase of research, investigators will study perceptions of STEM-focused CTE from a nationwide sample of 800 middle school-aged youth and 30 mentors from skill-based STEM industries. In the second phase, investigators will work with six program leaders and 30 mentors from SkillsUSA, Explorer Clubs, Scoutreach, and other mentoring programs to document the needs of mentors for support as they enter into the mentoring process. The third phase will engage mentorship program leaders and 36 mentors in the iterative development of a suite of digital tools that would support positive messaging around skill-based education and careers and that would improve mentors' communication with youth mentees. In addition, a pre-post mentorship program pilot study will explore the promise of the digital tools for effectively supporting mentor-mentee communications that improve youth awareness and interest in STEM-focused CTE and skill-based, STEM-related careers. Thirty six mentors and 288 of their youth mentees will participate in the pilot study. Data sources for research include interviews and surveys of program leaders, mentors, and mentees, as well as tracking mentor activity within the online digital tool environment. This research would advance knowledge of how mentors influence disadvantaged youth perceptions of and interest in CTE and skill-based, STEM career pathways, in which there is currently little evidence as to how mentor preparation shapes ability to positively impact youth outcomes. Major outcomes will include a) deeper understandings of youth and mentor perceptions of CTE and mentors' needs for supporting their work with mentees, b) a messaging roadmap and digital tools that prepare mentors for their work with middle school youth, and c) empirical findings regarding the potential of the digital tools for effectively supporting mentor-mentee communications that improve youth's awareness and interest in CTE and skill-based, STEM-related careers. Outcomes will be shared widely to research, education, and industry communities, locally and nationally, through social media, partner networks, conference presentations, and research publications. An advisory board will provide independent review on the project activities.