eMentoring Youth in STEM

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August 12th is International Youth Day, observed by the United Nations. This year’s theme seeks to highlight the ways we engage with young people at local, national, and global levels. Engaging with young people enriches institutions and organizations as well as draws lessons on how representation and engagement of youth can be enhanced.

At Schneider Electric, we celebrate International Youth Day because we want to enable and provide young people with equal opportunities to strengthen their abilities and achieve global action. Through internships, early careers, scholarships, career development programs, and working with young people in our local communities, we empower our youth.

Elissa shares her experience partnering with TryEngineering Together, where she mentored youth online through eMentoring. Why does she do it? Keep reading to learn why.

Elissa Heckman- ementoringThere’s one question that I’m asked most often after someone hears that I studied Mechanical Engineering or that I have pursued a technical career with Schneider Electric – what made you interested in engineering?

I’ve seen it several times at STEM events. When kids are asked to close their eyes and picture an engineer, the answer is almost always “a man in a lab coat” or “a guy working on a train”. When we ask them to open their eyes and tell them that all of the women and men in front of them are engineers, their perspective starts to shift.

The truth is that the answer to the question, “What made you interested in engineering?” has always been the mentors in my life. From a young age, I was encouraged to pursue my passion for problem-solving and to lean into the interest that I found in math and physics. Even though I don’t fit the description that kids picture when they close their eyes, I had mentors who invested in me regardless.

eMentoring Youth in STEM

Ever since I started my career with Schneider Electric, I have had the opportunity to participate in events that encourage the next generation to pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering, and math. When the eMentoring program started through TryEngineering Together, I knew this would be the chance to give back the reassurance and motivation that I have seen as such a positive impact on my journey.

ementoring with Schneider Electric STEM

As an eMentor, we were paired with an elementary school student to work with throughout the year. We read articles and engaged in STEM-related conversations, allowing the students to ask questions about our careers and experiences. Because we worked with the same student throughout the year, we were able to build a more meaningful relationship with them. We could better understand their interests and were able to see their horizons expand and perspectives shift over time. It’s definitely rewarding when you can see an increase in a student’s engagement and excitement behind learning something new.

Encouraging Youth

The most important thing that I’ve learned in my time as a mentor is that students need to hear, “Yes, you can.” It’s as simple as that. So often, the only thing holding them back is the idea that they don’t fit perfectly in the picture that is painted in their mind. Instead of teaching students how to fit into the picture, we need to give them the paintbrush. When we can share our experiences with them and show them that every path is different with challenges and victories, we teach them how to paint their own picture and write their own story.

After telling a student, “yes, you can,” mentorship also encourages them that they are not alone. A student once looked at me overwhelmed by the studying she would have to do to pursue a career in STEM, but relief overcame her when I explained that there is help at every step in the journey. In a world where we are told to make something of ourselves, it’s helpful to be reminded that we don’t have to do so by ourselves.

Though mentorship can be a challenge, it’s one that comes with a big reward. While we have so much to offer the next generation in encouragement and experience, they can quickly become the ones teaching us something as well. I’m thankful for Schneider Electric’s partnership with TryEngineering Together and look forward to the continued opportunity to give back and invest in the future!

About the Author

Elissa is an EcoStruxure Power Systems Engineer at Schneider Electric based out of Smyrna, Tennessee.

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