From the Community Engagement Manager’s Desk – April 2024

Jaime WaltonFrom the Executive Director's Desk, Front Page, STEM News

Guiding Lights: Honoring Volunteers in Out-of-School Time Learning

Journey with us as we delve into the diverse and dynamic world of out-of-school time (OST) learning in this special three-part series. This month, we want to give recognition to the often unsung heroes who breathe life into OST programs – volunteers who leave an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of our future STEM leaders.

Before we delve deeper, let’s take a moment to revisit your formative years. It’s likely that the guiding hand of mentors and volunteers shaped your sense of belonging and ignited the spark of possibility. Their unwavering support helped many individuals find purpose and passion in the vast expanse of STEM, where dreams took flight and boundaries blurred into mere stepping stones.

Volunteering and mentorship play critical roles in expanded learning STEM programs for several reasons:

  • Experiential Learning: Volunteering and mentorship provide students with hands-on, real-world experiences that complement classroom learning. Through interactions with volunteers and mentors, students gain practical insights into STEM concepts and applications, reinforcing their understanding and fostering a deeper appreciation for STEM subjects.
  • Role Modeling: Volunteers and mentors serve as role models for students, showcasing diverse career paths and demonstrating the relevance of STEM in various industries and sectors. By sharing their own journeys and experiences, they inspire and motivate students to pursue their interests in STEM fields and envision themselves as future STEM professionals.
  • Personalized Support: In expanded learning STEM programs, volunteers and mentors offer personalized support and guidance to students, tailoring their approach to meet individual needs and learning styles. This one-on-one attention can boost students’ confidence, academic performance, and overall engagement with STEM subjects.
  • Building Connections: Volunteering and mentorship create opportunities for students to build meaningful connections with professionals and experts in the STEM community. These connections can lead to internships, job shadowing experiences, and networking opportunities, providing students with valuable insights and resources for their future academic and career endeavors.
  • Fostering a Sense of Belonging: For historically excluded groups in STEM, such as women and minorities, volunteering and mentorship can play a critical role in fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion. By connecting students with mentors who share similar backgrounds or experiences, these programs help combat feelings of isolation and imposter syndrome, empowering students to thrive in STEM environments.

This past Saturday, our SeaPerch Challenge echoed with the laughter and camaraderie of nearly 30 community volunteers, each embodying the spirit of generosity and dedication. From Joe Clemmer, whose unwavering commitment shapes our mission courses year after year, to the tireless efforts of Scuba Savvy volunteers ensuring our underwater courses were reset between rounds, and the countless engineers and STEM professionals who lent their expertise as judges, their collective impact ensures these OST programs are possible.

Looking back at the monumental strides of 2023, outlined in our Impact Report, we are humbled by the collective efforts of over 400 community volunteers and nearly 300 diverse community partners who rallied alongside us to realize our vision. Together, we facilitated over 1,000 hours of mentoring through our Me & My Math Mentor program, nurturing the seeds of curiosity and igniting a passion for lifelong learning.

We extend our heartfelt gratitude to every volunteer, mentor, teacher, and coach who dedicates their time and expertise to nurture the next generation of innovators and dreamers. Your selfless contributions breathe life into our programs and pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future. We also want to extend a special shoutout to our partner of the month, The Opportunity Project. They support youth-serving organizations to deliver high-quality programs, connect partners to youth and communities, and advocate for equitable OST experiences in Tulsa.

In the tapestry of STEM education, volunteers are the threads that bind us together, weaving a narrative of hope, resilience, and boundless possibilities. As we celebrate National Volunteer Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to fostering a community where every child has access to meaningful, expanded learning opportunities in STEM, guided by diverse mentors and coaches who believe in them.