In a recent STEM.edu blog, Dr. Aria Nouri identified the critical need for students on campus to stay engaged with their education in a wired age, when online courses could make coming to campus unnecessary altogether. "How can the system disseminate education in such a manner that students will maintain an eagerness to participate away from their computer?" he asks. Dr. Nouri is particularly concerned that students will lose the extracurricular mentoring that results from being on campus.
While not the same as on-campus mentoring, the online version is an alternative, and possibly even more effective, channel for learning and success.
In the last decade, the national e-mentoring organization MentorNet (www.MentorNet.net) has facilitated 30,000 one-on-one relationships between mentors and protégés, completely online. Volunteer mentors, most from industry, encourage students to overcome hurdles in their pursuit of engineering and science degrees, especially those who are statistically most likely to face hurdles, women and underrepresented minorities. Further, the online discourse between mentor and protege, largely via email, actually enables students to broach issues that they might hesitate to raise with professors or peers. This, in turn, empowers the student and deepens the mentoring relationship in a way that face-to-face interactions often preclude. As Dr. Maria Fernandez, a MentorNet mentor, said in a recent Chronicle article about her experience as a mentor, \"The format allows you to exchange very personal problems, very specific problems. And that's important because these students are dealing with more than just their education."
The dialogues promoted through online mentoring clearly contribute to student success: more than 90 percent of MentorNet's student protégés persist to graduation in 70 different STEM disciplines. In addition, most MentorNet mentors appreciate the opportunity to broaden their own understanding of the rising generation of talented engineers and scientists while reflecting on the arc of their own careers.
Finally, as David Porush, CEO of MentorNet, expressed in a phone interview, \"A majority of our mentors and protégés discuss employment. If the goal of a degree on campus is in part to launch a student's career in her chosen field, e-mentoring is working."
- Check out CNN's recent story The emergence of e-mentoring (October 2011)