Cultivating the next generation of STEM leaders
By Rob Schneider, Executive Director, The Lemelson Foundation
Navigating the landscape of complex challenges we face in the 21st century requires more than just individual brilliance. It demands a collective effort, where diverse perspectives converge to provide pathways towards a brighter future. In this endeavor, mentorship plays a crucial role, acting as a bridge between experience and innovation, wisdom and creativity.
Imagine a young inventor, brimming with ideas but needing specialized engineering expertise to overcome challenges with their new hardware-based product — or lacking experience to navigate the complexities of the business world to bring that product to market. Seasoned mentors, with their wealth of knowledge and diverse perspectives, can provide invaluable guidance and support, and nurture fresh ideas with the wisdom of past experiences.
Mentorship is not simply about imparting knowledge; it’s about igniting curiosity and encouraging critical thinking. By fostering a safe space for open dialogue and diverse perspectives, mentors empower individuals to challenge assumptions, explore different angles, and ultimately develop more holistic solutions to complex problems
January is National Mentoring Month, a time to recognize the transformative power of mentoring and its impact on shaping the future. This month, we celebrate the extraordinary mentors who inspire and guide young people, particularly in STEM fields.
The STEM fields are rapidly evolving and offer incredible opportunities for innovation and problem-solving. However, a persistent skills gap threatens to hinder progress in these critical areas. This is where mentors come in, bridging the gap and preparing the next generation of STEM leaders.
This National Mentoring Month, we’re collaborating with longtime grantee and partner the Lemelson-MIT Program (LMIT) to focus on the power of mentorship in STEM and Invention Education.
For the past twenty years, LMIT has been pioneering Invention Education through their InvenTeams® Grant initiative. Teams of high school students, teachers, and mentors receive a financial grant and support from LMIT for a year-long invention project that creates a technological solution to a problem they’ve found in their own community.
For the 2023-24 InvenTeams cycle, LMIT has named 10 Invention Education Fellows, teacher-leaders who mentor both the teams’ teachers and the students themselves — connecting them with resources, helping them recover from failures, and ultimately guiding them through the invention process. The teams turn their ideas into functioning prototypes that are exhibited each June at MIT’s EurekaFest® celebration.
Over the past two decades, LMIT has established itself as a leading force in fostering student invention and innovation. The program has reached 3,883 students, resulting in nearly three hundred unique invention prototypes — and 17 U.S. patents.
These impressive numbers underscore the transformative power of LMIT’s approach. LMIT students are not only encouraged to invent; they are also supported in the process of turning their ideas into reality. And LMIT’s Invention Education Fellows are at the center of that journey.
This year’s Fellows are helping the 2023-2024 InvenTeams from California, Nevada, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, and Georgia, working on projects as diverse as improving bicycle safety to helping keep wildland firefighters cool.
We shine a spotlight on these incredible mentors — sharing their unique backgrounds, what inspires them, and how they are cultivating the inventive mindsets and skill sets that will make a difference in students’ lives — and will be crucial for solving the problems of the 21st Century.
Join us in celebrating the power of mentorship by learning more about each mentor and the student inventions they are supporting here.