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Wanted: 1 Million Women STEM Mentors

By guest blogger Caralee Adams

Cross-posted from the College Bound blog. 

When Talmesha Richards graduated with her Ph.D. in cellular and molecular medicine from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine two years ago, she felt a personal obligation to encourage other girls to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or math.

"I know the power of a mentor. I'm a testimony to it," says the 33-year-old who now works as a director of project partnerships for STEMconnector, an organization that connects corporations with community organizations to invest in STEM training. Richards can recall mentors as early as 3rd and 8th grades who helped encourage her in math and science.

Now, Richards is part of an effort to recruit 1 million STEM mentors to support girls from middle school through career. The Million Women Mentors campaign is sponsored by more than 70 businesses and organizations, including CiscoGirl Scouts, the National Girls Collaborative Project and STEMconnector.

Women comprise about 48 percent of the U.S. workforce, but just 24 percent are in STEM fields, according to the campaign.

The effort started in January and 170,000 professionals have pledged their time so far.  Volunteers are asked to give about 20 hours per year to work with a young girl with an interest in studying STEM. Mentors (male and female) receive training and a weekly guide for meeting with students, which occurs outside of school through industry partnerships and community organizations, according to Richards.

The campaign hopes to increase the percentage of U.S. high school girls planning to pursue STEM careers, which is currently 13 percent. About 45 percent of STEM degrees are earned by women and students of color, although they make up 75 percent of all college students. The campaign suggests many of these young women leave STEM degree paths despite their good academic standing, often citing uncomfortable classroom experiences and climate.

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