From humble beginnings here in Massachusetts, the Clubhouse Network has grown to become a globe-spanning NGO that serves over 25,000 youth per year, mentoring them in the invaluable STEM and IT skills that will let them thrive in the 21st century. Jennifer Bourgoin, the Clubhouse Network’s Mentor Program Manager, kindly spoke with MMP regarding the importance of STEM mentoring, and how they are continuing their mission amidst COVID-19.
1. How has your organization pivoted and evolved during the Pandemic to safely respond to the needs of your mentees?
Although the coronavirus pandemic disrupted The Clubhouse Network’s (TCN) in-person mentoring model, many sites were able to quickly adapt to virtual mentoring and continue pursuing our mission. TCN’s focus on technology enabled Coordinators to swiftly adopt new systems for online communication, and TCN’s partners at Best Buy generously offered Clubhouse youth free hotspots and Adobe licenses to make virtual connections possible. Mentors and members (Clubhouse “mentees”) continue their relationships through diverse virtual activities, including STEM workshops, group socials, hands-on activity kits, and college and career sessions; these opportunities for engagement are more important than ever at a time when many youth are feeling isolated and a sense of loss. Although the pandemic has disrupted lives, disproportionately so in communities of color, the virtual learning landscape has also broken down geographical barriers, so that members in California are able to attend programming in Massachusetts and vice versa. Some Clubhouses are also lending their cameras, sewing machines, laptops, and other equipment to members, so youth can continue working collaboratively on projects.
2. What is different or special about STEM-focused mentoring compared to other forms of mentoring.
STEM-focused mentoring offers youth the opportunity to creatively express themselves while exploring novel technology and building positive relationships with adult mentors. Each Clubhouse is at once an artist studio, inventor’s workshop, design house, film sound stage and backlot, hackerspace, music studio, and computer game development lab. With the support of mentors from diverse fields, Clubhouse members unleash their creative talents, engage in peer-to-peer learning, and develop a unique voice of their own. Mentors can support members in harnessing their passion and channeling their interests into meaningful projects. Projects created at the Clubhouse can become resume-builders as members apply for future college and career opportunities.
3. Why is it crucial to instill STEM knowledge in youth?
Much has been written about how the future job market will rely heavily on STEM competencies. We also know that many communities – including women, people of color, and first generation college students – are underrepresented in STEM careers. Our learning approach is designed to empower youth from all backgrounds to become more capable, creative, and confident learners. Members who develop a passion for STEM and build STEM competencies when they’re young will be well-equipped for the evolving job market.
4. How can MMP best support your organization in the future, and how have we supported you in the past?
MMP has built an impactful community of practice among mentoring practitioners, where we can access training, share information, and gather resources. MMP also raises awareness about youth mentoring so that more adults sign up to become mentors. Thank you for everything MMP does to support our mentoring programs across the state!