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STEM Mentor Program

Service Research in Urban Schools

PI & Leadership Liaison/Project Director: Dr. Charles M. Spuches
Co-PI: Dr. Richard E. Beal
Project Coordinator: Brandon Murphy

SUNY-ESF was awarded a STEM Mentoring Initiative to Strengthen the Education Pipeline grant from the State University of New York (SUNY) and the New York Academy of Sciences (the Academy).  This award was made possible by a $2.95 million National Science Foundation grant to scale up a successful afterschool program in which SUNY graduate students and postdoctoral fellows mentor middle school students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. The program targets students in high-need school districts.

Program Overview

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) will build upon an established successful partnership with the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) to adopt, conduct, and institutionalize a structured afterschool mentoring program. This concerted State-wide effort will substantially strengthen middle school students’ STEM knowledge and engagement, and the professional development of ESF graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.  Participating mentors will become part of the ESF Science Corps and will bring STEM content and research expertise, passion, and excitement to learning activities for SCSD 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) afterschool programs for middle school students. 

The twofold purpose of this program is to

  1. Increase middle school students’ access to high-quality, engaging and hands-on STEM after-school enrichment programs that will
    1. Improve STEM content knowledge;
    2. Improve student self-efficacy and confidence in STEM; and
    3. Present role models from STEM-related fields.
  2. Improve the teaching and outreach skills of participating scientists-in-training (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) by providing them
    1. Foundational knowledge of teaching and learning strategies in informal learning environments; and
    2. Opportunities to apply this knowledge by mentoring middle school students.

Our commitment is to recruit and engage a pool of 10 or more ESF graduate student and/or postdoctoral mentors per semester who will

  • Take a three-credit online course to enhance mentor’s knowledge of the related STEM content and to support development of best pedagogical and mentoring practices outlined in National Science Education’s Standard A: Science As Inquiry (National Research Council, 1996) that will appropriately serve toward degree completion, as an elective course.
  • Provide approximately 90 minutes of mentoring per week over the course of a semester.

Who can be involved in this program?

  • Graduate students and post docs at SUNY-ESF.
  • Community-based organizations or schools who run afterschool programs in Syracuse/Central New York.
  • Middle school students who attend the affiliated afterschool programs/school.

For Graduate Students and Postdocs

What is the role of a grad student or postdoc in the program?

Graduate students and post docs serve as mentors for middle school students in afterschool programs. In order to become a mentor, you must apply, be accepted into the program and participate in a series of trainings. A three credit graduate level online course is also part of the program. You will then be placed in an afterschool program, likely with a partner, to teach 10–12 lessons over the course of a semester for approximately an houre once a week.

Will I get paid?

This is a volunteer program. This means that you will not receive money for your participation. The program is open to foreign students who are not eligible to work outside of their approved visa.

What is the time commitment?

Graduate students and post docs must be able to commit to the program. The following is what is required:

  • One full day of training to learn the curriculum
  • Provide about an hour of weekly instruction during after school hours for 10–12 weeks
  • At least one planning meeting with the after school provider
  • Participation in the graduate level, three-credit, online course
  • Complete the fingerprinting and background process (free)
  • Optional monthly check-in meetings with the program coordinator and ESF Science Corps members

What can I teach?

You will learn how to adapt and lead one or more environmental science learning activities.  You will work with your regional coordinator to adapt the curriculum to the students you are mentoring.

I've never taught before, should I do this program?

Absolutely! For many students, this is their first time teaching and the program is designed to help you learn how to teach. In addition to the training, there is a lot of support built into the program including being paired with another scientist, support from your regional coordinator or colleagues when you need help and support from the staff at the afterschool program.

Through this program SUNY students can earn three graduate level credits through an online class titled "Practicum in Teaching STEM and Mentoring Middle School Students". That course can be used to count towards the elective portion of your graduate degree, and will be offered over the spring 2014 term concurrently with your time serving in the Afterschool STEM Mentoring Fellowship Program. As is standard with such coursework, you should budget 9 to 12 hrs/week to complete it, but since it is online the scheduling of that commitment is up to you. By the end of the semester you will gain an understanding of STEM pedagogy and mentoring, and that course grade will appear on your graduate transcripts. The tuition for this course is waived.

Course Info: (EDU-660527) Practicum in Teaching and Mentoring in STEM (Graduate, 3 cr) Teaching the sciences includes helping learners to gain a better understanding of content knowledge, teaching methodologies and strategies, and the scientific process. Historically, science teachers delivered content with little regard for process, and thus learners rarely gained skills in discovery or appreciation of the power of the scientific model. In this online course the student will be introduced to the pedagogy and skills necessary to teach the sciences in formal and informal environments via an inquiry-based learning model. In addition to the online learning, each student will be assigned a group of K12 students and mentor them through a series of standards-based STEM curricula. Students who successfully complete this course will have gained skills that will be useful in their roles as scientists, teachers, role models, and mentors as they experience a rich multimedia, inquiry-based learning environment as their students would in their own classroom.

I'm interested in a career in teaching, is this a good program for me?

We think so! It's a great opportunity to test out teaching.

For Parents and Students

What is taught in this program?

Young scientists who serve as ESF Science Corps mentors will lead a variety of learning activities that engage urban students in learning activities that directly touch their everyday lives.  The mentoring process is based participating ESF graduate students’ disciplinary, professional and research expertise and experience. Learning and mentoring activities are aligned with the New York State Scope and Sequence and are based upon hands on, inquiry based teaching and learning.

Is this a tutoring program?

No. This is a program that will provide extra exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) but is not designed to be a test prep or tutoring program. Many of the affiliated schools and organizations also offer tutoring programs and homework help.

Is this for gifted and talented students?

The program is designed to serve all kids within a program and is not designed to be selective.

Do you have a program for high school students?

Educators, students, parents, building and district leaders are invited to learn more about ESF in the High School, a school/college partnership program that enables qualified students to:

  • Experience college-level course work while still in high school.
  • Understand the complex scientific and social perspectives behind the environmental issues that make headlines every day such as, the relationship between energy use and the environment.
  • Learn about and explore diverse interests and career opportunities in environmental science, engineering, management, policy and design - and in related areas such as law, communications, technology and medicine.

My student wants to enter a science fair or work with a scientist; do you have recommendations for where to find them?

You are invited to contact ESF Outreach at (315) 470-6817 or

Grant Support

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The Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program is supported in part by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1223303) through the State University of New York and the New York Academy of Sciences. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.