The Benefits of Online Mentoring for High School Girls: Telementoring Young Women in Science, Engineering, and Computing Project - Year 3 Evaluation

September 1, 1998

Since 1988, EDC's Center for Children and Technology (CCT) has conducted several investigations into the relationship between gender and technology that shed light on the needs of young women who are working in or considering careers in engineering or computing. These studies point to the many tensions and conflicts that young women experience when contemplating or pursuing technical and scientific courses and careers. Girls in high school pre-engineering classes reveal their feelings of isolation and the challenges they encountered when they approached their technical or design work differently from their male peers. There was no one to validate the difficulties they were experiencing, and there were no female mentors to share similar experiences and help them craft strategies for dealing with these issues. This, in turn, resulted in many of the students questioning their own abilities to succeed in engineering.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, the Telementoring Young Women in Science, Engineering, and Computing project was created to develop and test online mentoring environments in which high school girls could safely discuss their school experiences and feelings with practicing women professionals who had "made it" in science and technical fields.

Central to the project's goals was the belief that ongoing electronic communication with successful women engineers and scientists could provide girls with validation and advice rarely found in traditional educational settings. Because young women do not have easy access to professionals, we speculated that telecommunications could be a particularly appropriate medium for providing this kind of support. Through online conversations and discussions, professionals could address many of the girls' apprehensions, tensions, and questions by providing expert knowledge, useful strategies for overcoming fears and obstacles, and sound career advice. We also speculated that this additional support could help sustain girls' interest in science and technical fields and broaden their awareness of different career options.

When we received funding for this project in 1994, the notion of using the Internet for online mentoring experiences was novel. We understood that it would take intensive work to understand how relationships between younger and older people might flourish in this medium where individuals do not have the benefit of meeting face to face. We conducted intensive formative research in Year 1 with girls enrolled in a junior-year mechanical engineering course in a New York City public high school. We also conducted formative studies with mentors recruited from a range of institutions.

The Year 1 formative research informed the development of the following chief components of the Telementoring program:

  • One-on-One Mentoring Relationships
  • Peer Lounges
  • Discussion Forums
  • Project Web Site
  • Guides for Preparation and Implementation

In the second year of the project (1995-96), we collaborated with the Department of Energy's Adventures in Supercomputing (AiS) program to pilot test Telementoring in ten schools located in five states: Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, and Tennessee. The primary goal of the AiS program is to capture and cultivate the interests of diverse populations of high school students, particularly girls, in science, mathematics, and computing through project-based computational science courses.

In the third year of the program (1996-97), we continued to collaborate with the AiS program to implement the program more broadly and to conduct a more comprehensive evaluation of Telementoring.

This report focuses on the heart of the Telementoring project - the individual online relationships between students and mentors during the final evaluation year. Because online mentoring via the Internet was relatively new, we were interested in investigating the types of relationships that could evolve in this medium and the ingredients necessary for creating satisfying relationships. In addition, we were interested in understanding the impact Telementoring had on students participating in the program. This meant examining the dynamics of Telementoring relationships from both the students' and the mentors' perspectives. Our evaluation focused on collecting data from both mentors and their respective mentees to address four key questions:

  • What took place in online relationships between female students and their Telementors?
  • What were mentors' and students' perceptions of these relationships and of each other?
  • What were the characteristics of good relationships and the factors that mediated these relationships?
  • What impact did Telementoring have on students' career aspirations, perceptions of scientists, and career-seeking behaviors?

In the first section of this report, we explore the key participants in the project and the unique set of circumstances they brought to the Telementoring experience. The second section examines the nuts and bolts of relationships - how often mentors and students actually communicated, what they tended to discuss, and what types of learning experiences took place. The third section discusses students' and mentors' perceptions of the quality of their relationships and some of the intervening factors that mediated their satisfaction. The final section focuses on Telementoring's impact on students' awareness of careers, their career aspirations, and their behaviors. Based on a myriad of findings, we suggest future directions for research and development.


Dorothy Bennett
Kallen Tsikalas
Terri Meade
Margaret Honey