There’s no doubt about the value mentors can provide to the lives of students. A good mentor can show a young person how to identify and accomplish goals, connect with important people, serve as a role model and open up opportunities. How students acquire mentors can be a matter of their own initiative or built in as a requirement for programs, schools or community colleges.
For a female engineering student in college, having a mentor who’s also a woman can make a big difference in keeping her in the currently male dominated field. Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic about research conducted by Nilanjana Dasgupta at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Dasgupta found that women who were paired with female mentors were more likely to stay in engineering vs. those who were paired with male mentors or no mentors at all. Yong writes about her findings in The Atlantic:
She sees mentors as “social vaccines.” Just as medical vaccines prepare the immune system to deal with infections, good mentors inoculate the mind against the stultifying effects of negative stereotypes. “And this study isn’t just about women,” adds Radhika Nagpal, from Harvard University. “It’s about all the groups who have been historically and legally excluded, and are now slowly entering a world from which their members were barred. There’s a famous saying: You can’t be what you can’t see.”
For some women, enrolling in an engineering course is like running a psychological gauntlet. If they dodge overt problems like sexual harassment, sexist jokes, or poor treatment from professors, they often still have to evade subtler obstacles like the implicit tendency to see engineering as a male discipline.