New online resource center aims to fill STEM mentorship gap in Philadelphia

    Leaders across Philadelphia’s public and private sectors have been scratching their heads over how to bring more low-income, female and minority students into the STEM careers of science, technology engineering and math.

    Declaring it “STEM Mentoring Day,”  Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on Monday announced the launch of a new online resource center as a direct response to that quandary. It’s been established to expand access to STEM careers through a citywide mentoring initiative.

    An issue of resources and scale

    Saint-Gobain describes itself as the world’s largest building-materials company. With U.S. headquarters in Malvern, Pennsylvania, the company can’t find enough qualified people to fill job openings, according to Carmen Ferrigno, vice president of communications.

    Mentoring would help build that pipeline, said Ferrigno, and many employees want to volunteer, but they face limitations.

    “We don’t have access to schools,” Ferrigno said. “We don’t know how to do that type of specific tracking. So every time we want to do something with a particular school, we start from scratch.”

    On the flip side, Philadelphia schools report many students stand to benefit from such coaching opportunities, but they lack enough mentors. Education leaders acknowledge some great programs do exist, but they’re limited in scope.

    “Even among 250 kids across our two campuses, let alone all of the kids in Philadelphia, we have a hard enough time finding those resources and partnering on those things,” explained Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy, during a citywide STEM panel discussion Monday at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Creating a systemic, measurable approach

    Enter US2020 PHL. It’s Philadelphia’s new proposal as one of seven cities selected by the White House to amp up opportunities for underrepresented students in the STEM fields.

    At the proposal’s core is an online resource center, described by Nutter as “a one-stop shop” for students, schools, businesses and universities. It will also track STEM resources from around the region.

    “Eventually we will use this information to build a STEM asset map and a volunteer matchmaking platform, which will connect young people with potential mentors,” explained Nutter.

    Over 125 educational and corporate groups have signed on. Saint-Gobain is providing $150,000 in funding over two years; the Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia is providing $10,000; and IBM is providing $52,000 worth of in-kind consulting.

    The site goes live next month.

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