Young people in the commonwealth are our greatest assets, and we must give them the access and resources they need to succeed – now more than ever. More than 600,000 or 17 percent of Massachusetts residents work in the STEM field — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is one of the fastest-growing industries in the state, bursting with innovation and advancement. With mentoring and by building connections between students and educators we can better prepare young people for entry into the STEM workforce and create a talent pipeline for the Commonwealth’s workforce.
Across the nation, the battle against COVID-19 over the last several months has highlighted the critical need for continued growth and development in STEM. Health care systems across the country have been put to the test, and lifesaving medical and technological developments are essential to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
The pandemic has forced workplaces and educators to pivot their operations and find new ways to teach and learn. Through this uncertainty, necessary collaboration and partnerships that students and mentors participate in across the commonwealth has continued though virtual teamwork and activities, in and out of the classroom. With the support of partners across the state, since 2015, the Baker-Polito Administration has been committed to paving pathways and developing meaningful relationships between employers, mentors and students to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to “See Themselves in STEM.”
We know that gaps in achievement and opportunity for women and people of color in STEM exist, and moreover, people of color, first-generation students, low-income individuals, English language learners and people with disabilities are notably underrepresented. It is crucial to create pathways that help to build pipelines for future generations, provide mentorships and support underrepresented kids by building awareness and exposure and allowing young people to gain access to this sector.
Mentoring programs can help young people feel empowered to take on subjects like STEM and to pursue careers in those fields – a crucial strategy for closing gaps in diversity in those industries. Mentoring can also demystify STEM professions. Massachusetts STEM Week’s theme, “See Yourself in STEM,” expands the image of what a coder, doctor or engineer can look like, allowing young people to see themselves pursuing STEM careers regardless of their race, gender or their neighborhood.
We recognize the value in the relationships created with mentors and the impact they can have on students entering and persisting through to a career in STEM. These partnerships are already happening across Massachusetts, but there is still more to be done. MassMentoring, a nonprofit fueling the movement to expand empowering youth-adult relationships statewide, champions these relationships. For example, its Bold Futures Mentoring program pairs women in college or in the workforce with girls in sixth through eighth grade to provide consistent exposure, activities and relationship-building so that young girls have the opportunity to see themselves in STEM.
We know that the path to rewarding STEM careers is not linear for every student, and it is our hope that we can provide students with the resources and opportunities to learn and explore as they discover their passion in STEM. With the support of successful STEM employers and workers, our students and young people can forge innovative pathways and transform lives – both their own and those of the others around them.
Mentoring programs and initiatives make it possible to expose young people to STEM as they make decisions about college and careers. Get involved. Visit massmentors.org and become a mentor. We are calling on industry professionals to take the pledge to be a STEM mentor. Do your part to help level the playing field and to support more young people by giving them access and opportunity to STEM fields and prosperous futures here in Massachusetts.