Designing Your Mentoring Program

This is the first—and the key—element in building your program, because the design is the blueprint you will follow to carry out all other aspects of the program.

Involving All Stakeholders

While most of the hard work it takes to coordinate a mentoring program will fall on the shoulders of the program director, every person your program touches has a role to play in making it effective. An informed and committed community can dispel misconceptions that discourage or drive intellectual and scientific interest underground. It takes a village to dispel the misconceptions that:

Many programs place far too large a burden on one person while ignoring the rich tapestry of resources that others bring to the table. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from:

Mentees’ Families

If your mentoring program is aimed at encouraging middle school and/or high school girls to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics, parental support is a key ingredient. You will need to provide an orientation session for parents and other adults with a vested interest—such as teachers, administrators and guidance counselors—as they need to meet the science and engineering professionals who will serve as mentors.

Orientation for parents/guardians of participating secondary students should cover the following information:

Keep parents informed and involved by:

If your program provides mentoring for women in college, it is still a good idea to involve their families—particularly if these students are what might be termed “non-traditional“ students, such as first-generation college attendees. Research has shown that continued emotional support from family and friends in the community leads to greater commitment to earning a college degree.4

Current and Former Mentees

Actively soliciting feedback from mentees is another way to provide continued validation of their decision to pursue a career in emerging technologies. Once you have successfully “graduated“ a class of mentees, consider creating a peer mentoring program.

Business and Industry

As your mentoring program expands, you will want to explore the option of including more work-based activities related to local business and industry, such as job shadowing, internships, and even faculty externships. A relatively easy way to begin is by using technical employees as advisory board members and as mentors. Corporate mentors share their professional experiences with students and help them confirm their career decisions.

Colleges and Universities

Regardless of the age of the participants, you will want to involve your local colleges in your mentoring program from the beginning. In fact, it would be best if you built your program in a way that is symbiotic in a mutually beneficial way. Start by acquainting yourself with the degrees and certificate programs that they offer in emerging technological fields. (See sample degree programs in the Appendices.) Keep in mind that the colleges’ instructors and laboratories are powerful resources upon which to draw. In return, your mentoring program offers a pipeline of students who are enthusiastic about science and technology and interested in the colleges’ programs. After discussing the mentoring program with the appropriate department head or program chair and receiving permission to proceed, begin contacting instructors in the courses related to the emerging technologies your STEM mentoring program will address. In communicating with instructors, it’s important that they feel informed and welcome to participate, but not overwhelmed. (Sample emails, posters, brochures, and webpage can be found within the Model Programs section of this notebook, under Women in Technology Mentoring Programs at CSSIA.)

Having read this far, you realize that implementing a mentoring program requires the coordination of people and assets from many sources. A good example of this kind of cooperative effort can be found at many community college campuses, as often you will find the local Tech Prep/Career Pathways/CareerTechEd/Perkins Consortium headquartered there. Under these names and others statewide consortia meld resources from secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, business and industry; and state and national agencies to serve students—particularly those students who will seek degrees in emerging technologies sought by regional industries. Because colleges and Tech Prep consortia already have established relationships with key mentoring program stakeholders—and understand the current funding situation, whatever it may be—it would benefit you to involve them early in the planning of your activities. (You’ll find a document with links to directories of regional Tech Prep/Career Pathways coordinators listed by state in the Appendices section of this notebook.)

High School Guidance Counselors

Another important but under-utilized partner in your efforts to establish a successful mentoring program for young women are your local high school guidance counselors. They often play a make-or-break role in helping students determine what direction their future will take. And yet, think about the numerous counseling tasks they’re asked to do—so many that they cannot always keep up with the addition of college programs in emerging technologies. It’s up to you to find innovative ways to keep them in the loop! One idea might be to replicate the “Tech Trek“ held annually by Tidewater Community College’s Tech Prep Consortium. This bus tour exposes 40 school system counselors to regional business and industry where they learn about the different types of jobs available and the educational and skill requirements behind various related career pathways. Tidewater also collaborates with another community college, the local builders’ association and several contractors to host a two-day “Hard Hat Camp“ for counselors and teachers—demonstrating that where there is a workforce need, employers are more than willing to address the problem creatively.

To begin designing your mentoring program, consider the following questions.

  1. Who are the stakeholders? (Think in terms of all the players and contributors who have an interest in the success of your program.)
  2. What are the roles of the stakeholders? (Examine your list above and assign roles/job titles to each of your program’s stakeholders. Consider your expectations for their time commitment, sharing of skills and expertise, networking, fundraising, hosting of events, program promotion, mentor recruitment, fundraising, grant writing, etc.)
  3. Which student populations will your program serve?
  4. How might you involve counselors in your efforts to ensure that young women are prepared for careers in emerging technologies?
  5. What are the goals of your mentoring program? (Think in terms of addressing problems—such as the under-representation of young women in emerging technologies—and providing services—such as academic enrichment, social support, and career exploration.)
  6. For each of your goals, write measurable objectives that will serve as indicators of the program’s success. (For example, “By the end of year one, participating students will be familiar with the community college enrollment process.”)

Types of Mentoring

The type of mentoring program you offer will shape your program’s structure and operation—including the goals you want your mentoring program to achieve; the length and frequency of mentor commitment you require; and the kinds of activities that take place. The following definitions of mentoring types are based on those in the Elements of Effective Practice, a set of guidelines developed by the National Mentoring Partnership.

Since its inception, E-Mentoring has evolved from simple one-on-one exchanges of emails and group discussions via listservs to the use of more complex tools such as online courseware and discussion forums. If your school already has a license for Blackboard (or another course platform), you could set up a course section as a mentoring site. Mentees would access the site as if they were a student by using a password. As the mentoring program coordinator, you would need instructor access allowing you to view all online interactions within the section. For small group or one-on-one mentoring, you would use the Groups feature to limit access to those participating in the smaller discussion. Most courseware offers both real-time chat which functions like text messaging and a threaded discussion area which promotes ongoing discussions like a listserv. A free alternative6 to this configuration might be the establishment of password-protected message boards accessed via your project or school website.

What specific type(s) of mentoring you will offer?

1.New Formulas for America’s Workforce: Girls in Science and Engineering. National Science Foundation, 2003, p.28.

2.Effective Mentor Recruitment: Getting Organized, Getting Results. Developed by the Mentoring Resource Center for the U.S. Dept. of Education Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, 2006.

3.Adapted from Yes, You Can: Establishing Mentoring Programs to Prepare Youth for College. U.S. Dept. of Education Partnership for Family Involvement in Education, 1998.

4.Rendon, Jalomo & Nora, “Theoretical Considerations in the Study of Minority Student Retention in Higher Education,” 2003.

5.How to Build A Successful Mentoring Program Using the Elements of Effective Practice, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, 2005.

6.Zorum ( is freeware that can be used on either intra- or internet sites.