Mentors, Inc. may be the most recognized mentoring program in Washington, D.C. because it was the first, even before landmark research spearheaded a surge in other programs. For the 30th anniversary year of Mentors, Inc. in 2017, the organization reinvented its program in a significant way in response to national challenges in education, employment, and the 21st century economy.
We asked this question: What challenge are we facing as a country that mentors can help students solve, and how can our organization change to address this challenge? The answer was that while U.S. education is being reimagined, the need for STEM skills is already an imperative. Our program can expose students to STEM in out-of-school, hands-on exploration that is less intimidating, has the element of play, and the wonder of discovery.
We have shifted from a legacy matching students with mentors for a one-on-one experience (relationship) and its proven benefit for keeping students in school, helping them graduate from high school, and reducing the dropout rate; to matching students with mentors for career technical exploration (road map), to expose them to a variety of careers and the STEM element in just about every occupation. Mentors, Inc. now matches students with a one-on-one mentor and guides students through a focused, 1-4 years’ experience of career, college, academic and personal exploration, with a goal of broad career and STEM exposure, high school graduation, and college enrollment. The expectation is that while few of our students graduate with interest in STEM now, that more will in the future. Each career experience will have a STEM component, to present STEM and complex STEM work-based challenges in context.
Mentors, Inc. was founded in 1987 by a parent and a concerned educator who recognized the significant, untapped resource that the large pool of highly educated adults in Washington, D.C. represented for the many young people in the city’s public schools. The program has evolved from one focused on matching students from high performing schools with mentors and serving hundreds of pairs annually, to one using research-based best practices to achieve the best outcomes for youth who need mentors most, with a focus on quality over quantity. We’ve now embraced the benefit of helping our students learn about a variety of career opportunities to refine their personal interests, for students who may not have had the benefit of family and community-driven exploration.
Mentors, Inc. has matched and supported over 6,500 students with over $700,000 in college scholarships to graduating seniors. We remain an open-enrollment (motivation is the only requirement), citywide, one-on-one high school mentoring program, though we focus our recruitment on students who need mentors most.
Since the start, our goal has been to help our students graduate from high school and go on to college, to open up a lifetime of possibilities. Now, we're helping them consider careers for their future. And we do this using the research-based best practices of MENTOR National Mentoring Partnership, which advocates for mentoring nation-wide; and the Department of Education's STEM 2026 vision, providing a framework for youth career exploration. Need more inspiration? View the brief National Mentoring Partnership CEO's video-advocacy on the value of mentoring, or a video case for the importance of STEM in after-school programming.