The Monthly Mentors program serves to visit an elementary school classroom once a month to connect with students who do not currently have strong STEM curriculum due to where they go to school and their socioeconomic background. Each month, a group of the same or rotating students (mentors) travel to a chosen elementary school classroom in Santa Maria to give a short presentation and run a hands-on engineering activity with these students. Each month focuses on a different engineering discipline showing students that engineering applies to everyday life in a multitude of ways and that there are many different opportunities catering to all strengths and interests.
Cal Poly Society of Women Engineers partnered with Sanchez Elementary School to bring engineering mentors to Ms. Stenzel’s 4th grade classroom every month to introduce STEM to her students. Ms. Stenzel’s students were able to practice being industrial engineers by creating an efficient paper airplane assembly line. They learned how to be mechanical engineers by building catapults to fight off an evil dragon. These elementary school students floated into space and practiced being aerospace engineers by creating canopies to bring their friends safely back to Earth. Students worked on manufacturing a new ship for a group of friendly pirates who were stranded at sea. They practiced their spy skills by encoding and decoding secret messages to and from their classmates. Students learned how to effectively filter out dirt and debris in order to clean a source of water during their lesson on environmental engineering. Lastly, they learned how to be civil engineers by building the tallest newspaper tower to withstand a hurricane. For each engineering activity the students were given no example or model, encouraging them to use their imaginations and work with their teammates to come up with a design that would complete their challenge.
Over the course of the 2018-2019 school year, the new Elementary Monthly Mentors Program visited the same thirty students seven times, in order to outreach to an underserved community and provide the students with familiar faces who could serve as role models. The program’s goal was to expand our reach of students past the San Luis Obispo area and use our resources and knowledge to encourage diversity and confidence in minorities in engineering. On the elementary school level, students do not always feel comfortable asking questions and showing that they are having fun because they are afraid to fail or not know the “right” answer, especially in front of a college student that they see as a higher figure. The reason it is a Monthly “Mentors” program is that we hope that if the students see a mentor multiple times throughout the year they are more likely to have confidence in asking questions about the mentor’s journey and why they chose engineering or STEM.