To provide another perspective on the importance of STEM education in mentoring, Karen Chacón, the executive director of Latino STEM Alliance, graciously gave MMP an interview about the topic. LSA is an amazing organization, so definitely check it out!
1. How has your organization pivoted and evolved during the pandemic to safely respond to the needs of your mentees?
Since its very start, Latino STEM Alliance has operated remotely with all programs taking place in schools or community organizations. As LSA is already remote, it wasn’t difficult to pivot programs remotely, we already had most of the needed systems in place. When the pandemic first hit, all in-person programs were stopped and LSA provided mini coding lessons online, via social media and our website, so that any interested teachers and students could still engage in LSA activities from home.
When planning for the start of the school year, LSA found wonderful tools online that students can use to code and “build” a robot completely virtually online. Using these tools, LSA now has a completely remote “Robotics in Medicine” curriculum this year available for schools and community organizations in the Greater Boston, Merrimack Valley, and Springfield areas. For everyone’s safety, all programs are currently remote, and if the pandemic changes things this school year, there is an in-person curriculum that teachers can switch to if they choose.
2. What is different about STEM-focused mentoring compared to other forms of mentoring?
At Latino STEM Alliance, we know the importance of underserved youth seeing professionals in the workforce that represent them and their diversity, particularly in STEM careers. Only 6% of all U.S. STEM workers are Latino, and for many Latino families, the opportunities in the STEM industries are unknown. It is LSA’s mission to introduce these possibilities to youth and families, inspire and engage youth to further their STEM learning, leading to the larger pipeline of those eventually finding jobs in the STEM industries. Students should be able to envision themselves in the future and having successful Latino STEM professionals as mentors and models can help validate and anchor students’ interests in STEM.
3. Why is it crucial to instill STEM knowledge in youth?
When engaged in STEM learning, students learn much more than just those four subjects, including critical thinking skills, team building skills, and problem solving skills. While STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, youth can use their STEM skills in any academic or career path they choose. STEM jobs will continue to be plentiful, and it’s LSA’s mission to bring STEM learning to youth to inspire them to pursue those jobs later in life. Even if students pursue other interests and careers, STEM knowledge as a foundation will help individuals succeed in any profession they choose.
4. How can MMP best support your organization in the future, and how have we supported you in the past?
MMP can best support Latino STEM Alliance by connecting interested mentors to LSA, and by sharing our work like in this blog post! LSA is always seeking volunteers and mentors, whether in STEM, or is Latinx, or is passionate about our mission. I am not sure what the relationship with MMP has been with LSA over the years, if at all, and I look forward to building our partnership.