Students participating in NCSSM’s Mentorship Program gain soft skills such as professional communication, leadership, and resourcefulness, according to a study by NCSSM administrators.A team of administrators published an article in the October 2016 issue of Gifted Child Today on NCSSM’s Mentorship Program, how it is run, and the benefits it brings to students. “Building a Mentorship-Based Research Program Focused on Individual Interests, Curiosity, and Professional Skills at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics,” was written by Research and Mentorship Coordinator Sarah Shoemaker, Coordinator of Online Learning Chris Thomas, Chancellor Todd Roberts, and Library Director Robin Boltz. Mentorship, the authors conclude, empowers high school students by teaching them the “soft skills” they need, in addition to research experience and science knowledge, for future success. “It is often difficult to teach ‘soft skills’ that employers commonly look for when hiring,” they write. “Commonly, classrooms focus on the knowledge and specific skills required in the field of study and have less time to dedicate to teaching things such as leadership, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork that are critical to success in life and work. The Mentorship Program provides the opportunity for students to develop and practice soft skills such as resourcefulness, teamwork, professional communication, and taking responsibility for accomplishing desired goals. Development of these soft skills is not an explicit student learning objective for the course, but it is a primary objective of the program to empower students by the design of the pre- and co-curriculum and by giving students the responsibility to make their own decisions and to resolve their own problems.” “This article shares the ‘special sauce’ of the Mentorship Program, which was initiated in 1980 by Science Instructor Ross Baker and successfully continued to develop in the hands of many NCSSM faculty over the past 36 years,” says Shoemaker. “To most, it is not a surprise that students in the program conduct research with a mentor off campus, but the primary student outcomes of Mentorship cannot be taught in a classroom or assessed by an exam or even the success of a research project. “The special sauce of the Mentorship program is to empower students to take responsibility for the experience and solve their own problems. Rather than providing a topic, a mentor, and a research plan to each student, the program expects students to follow their own curiosity in any topic, ask a mentor for an opportunity to join their research team, and drive their own progression through the program to accomplish their own goals.”
The authors thank the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Monsanto Fund, and the NCSSM Foundation for their support of the Mentorship Program and other research programs at the school. Curriculum and goals for the Mentorship Program were created, in part, via a University of North Carolina System Instructional Innovation Incubator Fellowship for coauthors Shoemaker, Thomas, and Boltz. They also thank the numerous researchers and professionals who generously give of their time to mentor our students.