From the Program Manager’s Desk – July 2024

Jaime WaltonFrom the Executive Director's Desk, Front Page, Partners

The Ripples of Mentoring

Think for a moment about a well-known and highly renowned space expert and educator … If you’re anything like me, your first thought was of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Dr. Tyson is not primarily known for making groundbreaking scientific discoveries through original research in the traditional sense. Still, he has contributed significantly to the field of astrophysics and science communication by educating the public about current research, experiments, and discoveries. His talent for explaining complex scientific ideas clearly and engagingly has made learning accessible to a much wider audience. Dr. Tyson has also had a substantial impact on inspiring others to pursue careers in STEM fields.

Now imagine that Dr. Tyson never became the world-renowned astrophysicist we know him to be today. Consider whether his teaching has impacted and consider whether those individuals would have been inspired to join STEM careers without his influence. That unfortunate alternate reality could have been the case if Dr. Tyson had not had someone to look up to as a positive influence.

As a high school student in the Bronx, Neil deGrasse Tyson became deeply interested in astronomy and physics. He wrote to Dr. Carl Sagan, seeking advice on pursuing a career in science. Dr. Sagan not only responded to young Tyson’s inquiries but also invited him to spend a day at Cornell University, where he was a professor.

Dr. Tyson often reflects on Dr. Sagan’s mentorship as pivotal in shaping his scientific curiosity and career aspirations. Although the pair weren’t constantly in interaction, their time together exemplifies how encouragement and support from a mentor during crucial formative years can ignite a lifelong passion for science and pave the way for a STEM-enabled future for ALL.

What Is Mentoring, Really?

Mentoring is one of those words that holds immense weight and value far beyond what a written definition can do justice. The traditional definition of a mentor is someone a person has connected with for guidance and support based on wisdom and experience of a shared life experience or goal. However, even that definition cannot fully contain all the dimensions and layers within the mentor-mentee relationship.

Mentoring is a transformative relationship with ripples extending far beyond the initial impact. At its core, mentoring is about cultivating trust and respect, creating a safe space for open dialogue, and nurturing potential.

Why Does Mentoring Matter?

The positive benefits of mentoring through the formative years go beyond just a transfer of skills into creating a culture of belonging. Studies have found that “youth with a mentor are 22% more likely to have experienced a strong sense of belonging while growing up.” And, as highlighted by our VP of Ecosystems, Dr. Emily Mortimer, in the June Newsletter, belonging is a vital motivator to stay in or leave a STEM space.

Not only are these effects present for youth during childhood, but the effects of mentoring are felt even into their success in adulthood. Research has also found that “74% of adults that had a meaningful mentor say that person contributed significantly to their success later in life.” With statistics like these, it’s clear that mentoring has a significant positive impact on youth.

Within TRSA’s mentoring programs, we have seen amazing results. In only three one-day events last year, one out of every two youth attending grew from having low identification as a STEM person to having moderate to high identification as a STEM person. Additionally, one out of every three youths reported low career interest in STEM before the events, which increased to moderate or high interest after the events.

Who Are Mentors, Anyway?

When you think of the term mentor, do you typically envision someone within an “official” capacity? Someone who speaks from a position of power? The truth is that anyone with a willingness to share can be a mentor!

Mentorship roles can be fulfilled by peers, colleagues, family, friends, or any combination of identities. Anyone who is willing to invest time and effort into guiding and nurturing others can fulfill the important role of a mentor, regardless of their age, background, or professional status.

If you have ever partnered with TRSA’s Siegfried Space Week, Women in STEM Event(s), or Me & My Math Mentor programs, you have first-hand experience with what mentoring looks, sounds, and feels like within the alliance. Through these programs, we strive to help our program participants feel a sense of belonging in STEM through opportunities to engage with diverse STEM professionals.

Interested in continuing the mentoring conversation and making a true difference in a student’s life? Attend our next STEM in Motion convening or sign up to be a volunteer or mentor. All it takes is one pebble to create movement and change within the pond. Take the first pebble and see what it’s all about!


Rachel Christy, MPA
Program Manager, Competitions & Mentorship