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Meaningful Mentors

Dr. Matula is an Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) instructor in the Flight Operations Directorate of NASA. Dr. Matula was a mentor for a collaborative learning adventure called Martian Greenhouse 2.0.


We respectfully call her our "Mentor-of-Mentors." Thank you Dr. Matula for giving us a new vision for learning and inspiring everyone with your knowledge, generosity, and mentorship.


The recordings below were made for mentors in collaborative learning adventures like Martian Greenhouse. In this approach, students drive the learning, teachers facilitate, and subject matter experts inspire and inform by simply listening to students, offering advice, and empowering students.

Mentor Role Overview


Industry mentors (SME) provide real-world insight into their industries related to the problem statement or project challenge. 


This may include the basics of things like project management, teamwork, leadership, and other crucial elements separate from your technical expertise. Mentoring can come in many ways:


  • Guiding research and helping students find the most appropriate resources

  • Leveraging a network of professionals to inform the topic

  • Offering suggestions that connect current industry considerations/questions to future careers

  • Being a supportive cheerleader while also pushing the students to aspire beyond what they might initially think possibleBelow are some "Mentor Best Practices" notes from our previous collaborations.


Weekly Classroom “Visits”

Student teams and their facilitating teacher will work on the project throughout the week, but mentors are only expected to “visit” (either in-person or virtually) once a week for at least 1 hour to answer questions and encourage student’s progress. Any additional interaction with teams is up to your discretion, and may be a combination of synchronously via conference calls, in person,  or asynchronously via emails or shared docs with the facilitating teacher. Each mentor will work with the facilitating teacher to design the best mentorship schedule for your team.

Best Practices


Starting in a new volunteer group

  • If it isn't explicitly clear, ask the group what the expectations are for the volunteers (how often the teams meet, how long each session is, what type of interactions the group expects).

  • Ask if you can watch a session or meet with previous mentors to get an idea about the program. If you feel it's necessary, ask for mentor for your first time

  • Be sure to understand what resources are available to you in support of both your role and your team.  The mentor isn't expected to be an expert in all things but you certainly have more skills and knowledge than your team so please share that!

  • As the program: provide an outline to the program mentors that give the mission statement, goals of program, and what to expect (weekly emails to help guide sessions, etc) a few weeks before the start of the program.


Starting with new students

  • Keep asking questions to students, start with items they like to do, favorite subjects, etc. Garner a relationship with the students before getting into the STEM details. 

  • Check in with teachers through the program to see if there are any ways that you can help with students, tailor the program's message to the teacher's lesson plan, or if they have any suggestions on how to make the program more successful.

  • Ask the students if there was anything they wished they were doing or researching. Have them respond to you in a google form/email (with teacher cc'd) if they feel uncomfortable saying it in the classroom session.


Continuing the relationship

  • Check in with your partnered teacher a few weeks after the conclusion of the program and see if the group has continued on

  • Reach out to your group a few weeks before the start of a new session, and personally invite them to join again if available. Encourage other groups from their school to join too if they are able.


General advice

  • I never call students "kids" or "children" they are always students, hopefully that helps them feel more responsible than me "being the adult in the room".

  • A smile and a nod goes a long way when a student is presenting, especially in person. Make sure to be inviting with your body language, it can be very intimidating speaking to us adults.

  • Repeating what others are saying to you "what I'm hearing is...If I'm understanding correctly" helps confirm everyone is on the same page.

  • Never leave a meeting unless action items have been assigned. Ask for ones for yourself or volunteer yourself if none have been assigned yet.  Asking “what do we need to get done?” is a great leading question to pull action items out of your team.  Just be sure to confirm “And who is doing that?  And by when?” since that’s how it becomes an action item.

Below is what a coordinator of Lockheed Martin mentors had to say about the role of a mentor.


“If I were to have any advice, it would mostly be that these students already know what they are passionate about, so let them pursue it. It is your job as a mentor to guide them along the path that is your career and help them narrow their goals for their project, but a big part of your job as a mentor is to let them be creative in their own space to pursue something cool and creative in your industry.”

Deeper Dives and Other Perspectives


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