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Liz Whitewolf

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A 1:1 mentoring program for low-income teens and STEM professionals to learn digital fabrication tools and technologies

Mentors in the Making

Pittsburgh, United States
Low-income students are paired with STEM professionals to co-learn digital fabrication technologies, from 3D printing to CNC machining. The mentoring pairs meet once a week in Fab Lab Carnegie Science Center to learn the software and hardware of the lab while practicing the engineering design cycle. The pair work toward prototyping a capstone project that solves a challenge in the community.

What is Mentors in the Making?

Mary, Fab Lab Education Facilitator
“The students have gained a lot of confidence in being able to try new things, not be afraid, be able to take a little bit of a risk, and be able to use new tools.”

Mary, Fab Lab Education Facilitator

The Mentors in the Making program matches low-income high school students with  STEM professionals on a 1:1 basis in a digital fabrication maker space. The pairs meet once a week at Fab Lab Carnegie Science Center and learn side by side the tools and technologies of the lab. Dinner is included, and the pairs’ relationship grows as they co-learn and share their experiences. STEM mentors help by guiding conversations about careers, school, and even help create a resume with their student, but they are not professionals in digital fabrication themselves. The unique aspect of this program is that the mentors are learning at the same pace as the students, and that is essential in empowering the students to become makers and inspiring them to be lifelong learners.

The program lasts throughout the school year, and the pairs start with lessons taught by Fab Lab education facilitators. As their time progresses, the students and professionals begin to engage autonomously with the equipment in the lab and they work together using human centered design to create a prototype that solves a challenge in their school or community. By the end of the program, the pairs have a physical prototype of their solution and a celebration of their time together in the lab.

The program began in the 2017-2018 school year with 10 students and mentors, all of which completed the entire program, with over 30 hours of 1:1 mentoring.  Post survey results were conducted with help from The Mentoring Partnership, and 100% of participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "Since I've participated in this program, I feel more connected to professionals in the STEM fields."  This connection is an important aspect of the program; coupled with the desire to learn about new technologies, it creates a unique, positive learning environment for both students and mentors.

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Innovation Overview
14 - 18
Age Group
Tips for implementation
You will need a makerspace with digital fabrication tools, instructors/educators who can facilitate lessons, and STEM professionals who are excited to become mentors.
Connect with innovator
Liz Whitewolf

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Video: Mentors in the Making


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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Find a great makerspace and passionate people.
This program can be designed to work in any makerspace with digital fabrication tools, so find a space that has passionate staff (or volunteers) whose mission aligns with Mentors in the Making.
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Find local STEM professionals to serve as mentors
With help from your local mentoring organization (and from the "Mentors in the Making Playbook"), find STEM professionals who are passionate about helping youth and learning digital fabrication.
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Recruit students.
Find high school students who are interested in the program and match them with STEM mentors.
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Start making!
Makerspace educators lead the mentoring pairs through lessons and then help develop a capstone project plan.
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Celebrate successes.
At the end of the school year, organize a celebration to acknowledge the work that the pairs have accomplished in the lab. Invite a guest speaker to present and have each pair present their community challenge and prototyped solution.
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