She suggested that information is needed on cross-gender and cross-racial STEM mentoring and on mentoring of people with disabilities interested in STEM disciplines. George also called for more mentoring research linked to outcomes, such as entry into STEM college majors, time-to-degree at all degree levels, types of college and university degrees earned, entry into STEM graduate majors, entry into STEM careers by sectors, and advancements in the STEM workforce. At a more fundamental level, George suggested asking the question, “What is the purpose of mentoring?” Students may know that they want to be mentored but may have no idea of what kind of mentoring they need or what they want or need from a mentor.
Talking one on one with the students a program is designed to serve is an essential part of developing and assessing these programs. “Many of us design these programs without including the people that we are trying to target, to understand where they are coming from,” said Tuajuanda Jordan, senior program officer for science education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). “We cannot forget the voices of our students when we are trying to define these programs.” Sometimes that means talking with people who are quite different than you and “not in your immediate comfort zone,” she observed, but that is the only way to learn what their real concerns are.
Another important factor, said Zerhouni, is the timeframe when interventions are most effective. NIH is focused on the world of higher education, but many interventions may be necessary in the pre-college years. The Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, for example, brings promising minority students to the campus when they are in the 10th or 11th grade to show them what they could accomplish through hard work in high school.1
Another critical factor, according to Zerhouni, is the socioeconomic status of students. “I have seen terrifically qualified individuals who just could not afford the career in science that you would want them to follow,” he said. Should the amount of financial support be the same for all students, or should it be tailored to an individual and his or her needs? Perhaps financial support should be means-tested rather than the same for everyone. “For young, up-and-coming, minority, and underrepresented candidates, those dollar questions have a huge impact on their decision-making process,” said Zerhouni. “When you have $100 and that is your last $100 and you are in the lab with people at a different place in the wealth
The Meyerhoff Scholarship Program is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.