Mentors of Color Campaign: Closing the gender and race gap in STEM

Volunteer Programs Rock Star

Volunteer Programs Rock Star

Kelly Baker, Highland Street Corps Ambassador of Mentoring

SCFG AmeriCorps Diversity Fellow 

I don’t need to read any of the studies or hear the statistics to believe that what Science Club for Girls is doing is important.  I only have to look at my own academic journey.  When I was a young girl I loved science class.  I remember my fascination with excavating an owl pellet, looking for tiny bones.  My favorite topic in the 4th grade was volcanoes, and I took countless books from the library about lava and Pompeii.  Then I turned 13, and everything changed.  I was in an advanced Algebra II class when I started getting terrible grades on quizzes and tests.  Where Algebra had once seemed neat and orderly, and even exciting, the numbers and formulas had become a mystery.  I felt lost in Physics.  Chemistry was beyond me.  And instead of seeking out help from a tutor, or applying myself doubly hard, I decided I just wasn’t good at math and science.

I turned instead to English and the humanities, where I rarely encountered setbacks.  I wasn’t equipped to handle failure.  I mistook bad grades for incompetence, though my record of excitement about science and math pointed to the contrary. And, unfortunately for me, no one corrected me—in fact, I was supported by the messages around me.  Most of my math and science teachers were male. Other girls in my classes shared the same frustrations as I did.  The main female characters in my favorite TV shows spent more time shopping than discussing fractions or DNA.

As an adult, I often wonder what might have happened if I had been encouraged at that pivotal point to instead see math and science as something I could excel at, or at the very least, enjoy.  That brought me to Science Club for Girls.

I have been working at Science Club for Girls for a year now.  I joined the Volunteer Program team in January 2013 as a Highland Street Americorps member.  My first major project was to create program materials for our Campus Chapters based on a needs assessment survey and focus group with our college volunteers.  Based on the feedback I received from both staff and volunteers, I created an online handbook for our Campus Chapters that outlined best practices for recruiting Mentor-Scientists, running Chapter meetings, and the like.

I returned to Science Club for Girls for a second year of service this August.  In my new role as Diversity Fellow, I am creating and implementing a Mentors of Color Campaign. The latest research from Mass Mentoring Counts, the biennial survey of youth mentoring, shows that of the 30,000+ youth in Massachusetts between the ages of 6 and 24 who have mentors, more than 75 percent are Latino or black, while 70 percent of current mentors are white.

This statistic resonated for me, when looking at the demographics of our clubs.  A critical component of our mission is to provide role models for our participants.  Though all of our volunteers are fabulous, there is something to be said for a girl looking at a successful scientist and seeing her future self.  In a world where girls are bombarded with the message that “girls aren’t good at math and science,” it is incredibly powerful when real women can counter that message just by showing up and engaging in a science experiment with a group of young girls.

It is with this understanding that I am launching a Mentors of Color campaign within our organization. Science Club for Girls recognizes the innovation and community that occurs when people from all genders, racial, ethnic, and class backgrounds, faiths, abilities, and sexual orientations come together to explore science.  We aim to create a culturally responsive environment among our staff, participants and mentors.

I am partnering with community leaders to develop and implement a sustainable recruitment plan aimed at increasing the mentors of color who volunteer with our science club participants. I hope to create a sustainable recruitment plan for our clubs that has buy-in from the entire organization.

What I love about Science Club for Girls is that this organization, and the wonderful women and men who volunteer with us, is a part of a larger movement to close the gender and racial gap in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  I believe that the work we are all doing today will create a future in which a girl who is struggling in Algebra II can turn to a wide network of supportive adults and peers who will cheer her on, and tell her how awesome she is, and can continue to be, at math and science.



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