CEGE Graduate Students Help High School Students Jump into STEM
The initial impetus for the program came from two middle school students with a passion for math. Abirami Rajasekaran and Harini Senthilkumar first contacted Professor Sofia Mogilevskaya in 2018 about additional tutoring. Mogilevskaya and her graduate student Svetlana Baranova conceptualized a hybrid format of working with the students. First, students were taught the basics of programming in Matlab. Next, they were involved in a science project where they implemented their recently acquired programming skills to analyze data on Minnesota lakes. Eventually, with the help of Mogilevskaya and Baranova, Harini and Abirami successfully presented their project at MN State Science Fair, where they won a Silver Award and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize.
For Baranova, being a mentor and tutor for the students was a very fulfilling experience. Because of that, in 2020, she decided to explore the possibility of expanding the program and involving more graduate students (as mentors) and high school students (as mentees). She reached out to Vaughan Voller, director of graduate studies, and Joseph Labuz, department head and got approval. Four graduate students expressed interest in the new mentoring program, Mohammad Charara, Othman Oudghiri-Idrissi, Sagar Tamang, and Christopher Cheong. Together they finalized the program format, designed the program curriculum, fulfilled all administrative requirements, and reached out to local high schools to enroll students. In February 2021, five high school juniors joined the program. Thus, the first CEGE Junior Mentoring Program in STEM was launched.
The program’s goal is to provide BIPOC, women, or low-income students an opportunity to learn more about STEM. One of the instructors, Oudghiri-Idrissi, decided to contribute to the creation and development of the program because he “was driven to have a positive societal impact.”
The program consists of two parts: (i) bi-weekly 80-minute sessions with problem solving and discussion conducted by graduate students from February to June; and (ii) an individual project assignment with graduate students as mentors from July to August.
In the first part, five 11th-grade students studied the basics of programming and data analysis via Matlab. The educational sessions were designed and conducted by Baranova, Oudghiri-Idrissi, Cheong, and Tamang.
In the second part, the high school students participated in individual research projects and performed analyses based on their knowledge and programming skills. Three other graduate students (Xiating Chen, Daniel Kennedy, and Jiyong Lee) joined the program as mentors during this stage. All mentors formulated and conceptualized the ideas and timeline of projects and presented them to potential mentees. After assigning projects to high school students, mentors guided their mentees and helped them to implement the skills developed in the first part of the program; they also taught the students new concepts related to the particular research project. At the end of August, the high school students successfully presented the results to their mentors and a few faculty members. Students received positive feedback and certificates of participation in CEGE JuMP in STEM.
The graduate students plan to re-launch the program next year. And for that, they are looking for graduate students who are passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as training the next generation of engineers and scientists.
SVETLANA BARANOVA contributed substantially to this article.