Keeping young people interested and involved in science and technology is an important focus and one of the major goals of the ManyMentors organization.
Co-Founder and CEO Keshia Ashe, 29, from Hampton, Va., helped start the nonprofit organization because she saw a need for accessible STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) peer mentoring in underrepresented groups and wanted to help.
Ashe had been involved from a young age in many different community services and projects in Hampton that have tried to get youth more involved in different activities.
“People say it all the time, young people are the future, [and] they quite literally are, and I feel like I’m a really solid example of that,” Ashe said. “My experience has definitely inspired me and really showed me the need for what I’m doing.”
Her involvement ultimately inspired her to starting her own nonprofit organization to promote this type of advancement in young people.
ManyMentors is focused on giving opportunities to primarily middle and high school students, providing them with mentors and role models. Their mentoring is done both online, through a social media-like platform, and in person, through one-time mentoring or partnerships where mentors meet with students on a regular basis.
Having majored in biomedical engineering for her undergraduate degree, and now working on her Ph.D. in chemical engineering, Ashe is used to being the odd woman out in her class.
“Being a woman, and being a minority, I was basically the only one in my class,” she said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that [minorities and women] experience a sort of negative message from people [saying things like] ‘Why are you doing this? This isn’t for girls.’” This is part of the reason why Ashe and ManyMentors are trying to promote STEM involvement to girls and women.
ManyMentors is involved in putting on “Hackathons” where participants are getting exposed to computer science, promoting growth in that field, and learning how to take things apart to learn how they work. As Ashe mentioned, the Hackathons give young people the tools, mentors, and teachers to give them guidance and the opportunity to hack or code something that’s meaningful to them.
The organization is working with the Connecticut Science Center to put on a Hackathon in Hartford, May 9-10, which is giving middle and high school girls an environment and materials as well as a relatable scene. They are taking the idea of beauty and asking girls to show the different contexts of it through developing apps.
ManyMentors puts on these programs in addition to their mentoring work in order to keep up the retention of young women in STEM.
Lauren Gilchrist, product manager at Pivotal Labs, recently commented on STEM in a previously published Lioness article. “There are plenty of women in tech and STEM that are leaving in alarming rates,” she said. In fact, according to the article, women are leaving at up to a 40 percent rate.
“What happens is, they start receiving messages, [and] they start wanting to be cute or cool, and a lot of times being smart doesn’t really go along with that,” Ashe explained, while also adding her ideas on improving retention.
Once in STEM, Ashe suggests working hard to break stereotypes in order to keep girls interested in the program, and showing them that they can be interested in and work in science no matter who they are. She also urges giving these individuals even more support to keep them in STEM.
Ashe and her organization have also partnered with a number of major colleges and created ManyMentors Student Chapters on their campuses.
“I chose to partner with Keshia at ManyMentors because I believe in their mission. I am currently work in a STEM field, so I see the need for diversity in these fields almost everyday, especially [with] women and minorities, such as myself,” Simone White, chapter president at Cornell University, said.
Chapter President Amanda Pellowe of Yale University added her reasons why this initiative is so important today. “When girls and women choose not to pursue STEM careers, the applicant pool is reduced … When more women are present in labs, academia, and other STEM disciplines, they are more likely to influence policies that combat gender inequalities,” she said.
“It is also known that seeing women in STEM careers can motivate young girls to pursue STEM, as it becomes easier for them to imagine themselves in the same positions,” Pellowe added.
Julian Rose’s Chapter at the University of Connecticut is also pushing girls to continue in STEM, just by being themselves. “The majority of our mentors at the UConn campus are women. When we go out to schools or are asked to attend conferences, younger students are given strong examples of how women can be successful in STEM fields. This is not only empowering for female students, but it contributes to a shift away from the societal expectation that ‘women can’t do STEM,’” he stated.
With so many individuals working with them toward an important, common goal, ManyMentors and Ashe hope to build up STEM and get more young women involved and staying involved. More information about STEM and how to be a mentor can be found on the ManyMentors website.
Steph Elizondo is an intern at Lioness. The 21-year-old Western New England University (WNEU) junior is an English-Literature major. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine at WNEU, as well as a staff writer for the school’s newspaper. She enjoys writing stories and poetry creatively, as well as essays and articles professionally. She hopes to become a professional writer and editor.