Mentoring Goes Virtual, Dreams Become Reality

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Mentoring Goes Virtual, Dreams Become Reality

By Aragon Burlingham, Founder and President, We Teach Science Foundation
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.@ConnectToGood "Mentoring Goes Virtual, Dreams Become Reality" http://soc.att.com/2e0U209 #ATTimpact @WeTeachScience
Thursday, October 27, 2016 - 12:35pm

CAMPAIGN: AT&T: Possibilities

CONTENT: Blog

This post is part of our series on online mentoring. To learn more, click here.

It’s no doubt that in our digitally saturated generation, many relationships are built, and maintained, online. More than 92% of teens (ages 13-17) report going online every day to communicate with their friends and family, and 56% of them go online several times a day.1 It’s online where they are accustomed to building relationships and receiving information.

We also know that positive relationships, particularly adult mentoring relationships, make a tremendous impact on a student’s life, including making them more likely to graduate college and gain confidence in leadership roles. However, more than 1 in 3 students grow up without a mentor in their life.2  Utilizing technology; we have the opportunity to reach more of these students by connecting them to a caring adult mentor online.

I started We Teach Science eight years ago because I believe that every child deserves a mentor and champion who believes in them and helps set them up for a successful life – just like my parents did for me.

When I entered eighth grade in England, I was excited, confident and passionate about math. But within a couple of months, I was failing Algebra and had no idea how to get back on track. I remember sitting in the principal’s office with my parents and being told I was not “university material.” My parents and I ignored what we heard that day and persevered. Four years later, I came to the United States to study aerospace engineering at the University of Southern California and Stanford. Clearly, my principal was wrong. What would my life be like now if we had listened to him?

The program began with just 22 students at a small coastal K-8 school just south of San Francisco. Once a week, we brought professionals from Silicon Valley to the school to spend time mentoring students from underserved neighborhoods. Even with dedicated volunteers, it was difficult for many to make it in person each week. In our second year we began using technology in an attempt to recruit more volunteers and reach more students. Students and mentors would meet once a week through an online platform to speak, draw and write in real-time without leaving the classroom or workplace.

This shift to online mentoring led to a dramatic increase in our ability to reach more students, without sacrificing the positive student outcomes that resulted from in person mentoring and I attribute that to two main elements.

First, we now had the ability to recruit more volunteers, from anywhere in the country. Recruitment had always been one of our biggest obstacles to reaching more underserved students. Volunteers could now mentor students without leaving the workplace, and students could now connect with career professionals from around the country. Our mentor pool had grown exponentially.

Second, by connecting students virtually with mentors, we began reaching them where they already are – online.

Our results show this approach is working. Students who are matched with a career professional through our Remote Tutoring and Mentoring program outperform their matched peers on state assessments and math and science grades. More than 62% of students participating in the program increase their math knowledge and skills, and 84% said they were definitely or probably going to college or university after spending time with their online mentor for one school year.  

We have long known the power of mentoring, and we have now proven that this can be done just as effectively remotely. This shift to online mentoring allows any passionate, qualified adult to have a meaningful impact on a student's life, no matter where they are.

Today, we’re working with corporations like AT&T to make this possible. AT&T employees from over 33 states across the United States volunteer with We Teach Science.

I love hearing powerful stories from mentors like Arturo, an AT&T employee located in the Albuquerque, NM area and his mentee Manuel. Despite the geographical distance, the two made a connection right away through their online sessions and were able to bond over their similar backgrounds. Both are Hispanic and didn’t know many family members who went to college. Arturo shared his unique skills and experiences as a professional and inspired and encouraged Manuel to dream big. As a result of their relationship and work together, Manuel not only improved in his Math scores, but had a renewed interest in applying for college.

With technical divides bridged, all it takes is one person who is willing to take a few hours of their week to reach out to a child who needs help. We encourage other businesses to join us and collaborate with nonprofits, teachers, schools and caring citizens to help close the mentoring gap. Together, we can use the power of our networks to reach more students and connect them with mentors who can help turn their future dreams into reality. 

1  Pew Research Center, Teens, Social Media & Technology Overview 2015, 2015

2 MENTOR and Civic Enterprises, The Mentoring Effect, 2014

Keywords: Education | AT&T | Aragon Burlingham | Innovation & Technology | School | Silicon Valley | Social Impact & Volunteering | We Teach Science | online mentoring | students | tutoring

CAMPAIGN: AT&T: Possibilities

CONTENT: Blog