Indeed, Purcell may be on to something. While young people today have more opportunities to become exposed to STEM subjects than 20 years ago, more still needs to be done: A recent U.S. Department of Commerce report predicts that occupations in the STEM fields are expected to grow by 17 percent by 2018, nearly double the rate of growth in non-STEM occupations.
For Purcell, mentors are one way to help increase the growth of STEM-interested students and keep them interested enough to pursue a career, since “unlike a path in medicine or education where the individual can visualize the tasks involved or have come into contact with individuals who have chosen those careers, most are not in contact with people such as engineers or scientists,” she said. “Having a mentor assists them in opening their eyes to the wealth of opportunity available.”
Yet, not all mentors are created equal, and Purcell explained that even though being a mentor is fulfilling, certain expectations of a mentor must be met.
“Our mentors may not always be the people with whom we get along best or those who are our immediate superiors,” she said. “A mentor is not only someone who is willing to take the time to teach us techniques and processes, but also someone who takes an interest in our long-term advancement. Because this person can see our potential, he or she is willing to go beyond job duties and put in the extra work to ensure that we gain the understanding needed to progress.”
Outside of personal mentors, Purcell also advised that students join peer groups to boost confidence in their interests.
On the national level, Purcell suggests that proper funding on the local, state and federal levels assist with mentorship.
“Invite local professionals to speak to students at the Middle and High School levels so they can put faces and real life experiences to the knowledge they are obtaining can have a life altering impact” she concluded. “Books, such as mine, [should also be] offered as part of the curriculum so they can personalize what they can actually do with their knowledge.”