In editing this months feature by Bruce Furino about the Internet Science and Technology Fair, I reflected on my experiences of being mentored as a young person. Furino describes the continual need this Internet-based fair has for digital mentors, professionals in science and technology willing to give a few hours of sage advice via e-mail to K-12 students who are preparing projects for the annual competition. Its hard to read this article and not think back on the milestone experiences of ones own education, when anything from a well-placed word of encouragement to a long-term mentoring relationship made all the difference to ones professional trajectory.
When I first considered it, I couldnt think of anyone who guided me to my career path as editor, but now I see I was mistaken. We tend to think of mentoring relationships as long-term and one-on-one, and that is sometimes the case. But while few of us have memories of such idealized relationships, who among us doesnt remember the encouraging comments that shaped how we saw ourselves? Thinking about who shaped my self-image brought a flood of positive memories, from my older brother giving me a good portion of his personal library when he saw my adolescent fascination with the written word to the professor who, in my indecisive freshman year of college, told me offhandedly that I ought to major in English to hone my nascent critical reading, thinking and writing skills. We might call these instances drive-by mentoring, and the fact that I still remember these moments with warmth that I remember them at all tells me they can be every bit as influential to young people as longer-term investments.
The Internet makes drive-by mentoring possible on a grand scale. And we can be grateful for this, because todays students need to be shown by successful professionals that the mental exercise of a science and technology fair isnt just about getting extra credit, but about learning very specific reasoning skills that can take them far in the professional world.
At a time when ASTM International has decided to prioritize teaching college-level students about standardization through its new Student Membership category, we do well to look at what opportunities we have to get elementary and high-school students into the very college programs that will produce scientists, technical professionals and, by extension, standards developers. Thousands of young students are waiting for the inspiration to do just that.
Editor in Chief
Copyright 2003, ASTM