Amazing Stories of Transformed Teens

MENTORING GEMS | by Zac Burson

A NUMBER OF THE FEATURED STUDENTS IN this issue of Telementor have developed career and education plans over multiple school years with the aid of multiple mentors. Ideally, all ITP students would receive the same support as Cathey’s student Emma who needs to collaborate with people in the arts community and Joan’s student Mitchell who benefits from collaborating with software development experience. Emma and Mitchell benefit from the different perspectives of adults working in a variety of professions. They’re ready to continue collaborating.

In fact, self-directed students who recognize the need to collaborate seek out increasingly complex tasks to accomplish. The community of learners that they join will have specialized knowledge critical to their success. The enhanced rigor of their thinking creates a demand for the formation of new mentor/protégé relationships. I often tell my students (only half jokingly) that if I can understand their independent research work, then it’s not sophisticated enough.

A new version of the Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking is out, and where “evaluation” once sat at the apex, “creation” now tops all. In this new paradigm, “creation” subsumes all of the other types of thinking—recall, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. To create, therefore, is to build something new upon a platform of sound thinking and experience.

The action plans that ITP students form are dynamic documents that synthesize experience and spark new action. In the most interesting manifestations of student self-direction, new thoughts come forth; new networks are created; new actions are taken to address problems by way of new solutions. So really, these multiple iterations of exploration, planning, and acting should lead to increasingly complex “creating” if the young person is to appropriately develop his or her gifts.

Emma, by pursuing her own interests in art as a career, is helping us to create a new relationship with the Bossier Arts Council as she seeks to lend her talents to the work of this nonprofit. She is creating a new opportunity for herself and for those who come after her.

***

I was very fortunate this week to spend two days with students at Louisiana State University where my daughter and 43 other students from around the state shared their research in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

What was most impressive about this group of students was that they had all had the benefit of working with mentors of exceptional expertise in fields of interest to the students. Part of the program consisted of top researchers, professors and skilled researchers in the sciences.

We saw ice from Antarctica and researchers from Germany and India. They represented many different scientific disciplines. Young undergraduate researchers spoke with pride about their summer research experiences in some of the top institutions in the US and around the world. In fact, one young researcher had just returned from an expedition to Antarctica. Each spoke to their evolving understanding of the processes and the topics of research in which they now participated.

Two of the student participants, now high school seniors, were among our first students teamed with ITP mentors in independent science research projects in 2006.

During her freshman year, Scarlett Gray, an empiricist and a skeptic, went to the regional science fair with a project that disproved horoscopes.

Three years later, she is studying virology, in a research lab examining integrin signaling in monocyte motility in Human Cytomegalovirus. Scarlett shared that, in her freshman year, she was very reluctant to get any kind of support from a mentor; three years later she is working on a lab team with a highly respected lead researcher.

When in ninth grade, Scarlett’s classmate, Stephanie Axelson, collaborated quite effectively to study with HP mentor Julie Wilker how to prevent the “skin rips” that occur when gymnasts practice on the high bar and rings.

The sound research methodology and the openness to collaboration that Stephanie demonstrated back in the ninth grade is amplified tenfold as she now looks at mechanisms affecting DNA transcription of tumor suppressor genes in a cancer research lab.

While I listened to Scarlett and Stephanie present on Friday, I marveled at the sophistication of their thinking. I can’t say that I caught everything, and that impressed me.

***

We remain focused on providing multi-year support for ITP students as they develop and act on their action plans. With such experiences, students become more likely to view collaboration with mentors as critically important to the pursuit of individual goals.

Partnering with ITP to promote academic rigor and innovative thinking in STEM fields, MasterCard and The Merck Institute for Science Education will support the independent science research efforts of students at Parkway High school this year and next. Ideally, students will move from career exploration and education planning projects and action plans that will spark original academic research in rigorous academic areas.

For example, students interested in topics in computer science may be inspired to do student research in those fields.

Ideally, students doing research in a field will be inspired to get help from mentors belonging to communities of learners that are part of our work. Students are then inspired to connect with people in the local community and within other communities of learners.

Students will ply their talents to directly affect issues with which professional adults already wrestle, and collaborate with their more experienced colleagues to create new opportunities and tackle new and as yet unforeseen challenges.

Because I spend each day with adults and students open to such behavior, I am confident that ITP will lead the way in this work. We remain focused on providing multi-year support for ITP students as they develop and act on action plans.

With such experiences, students become more likely to view collaboration with mentors as critically important to the pursuit of individual goals. As students move through high school and increase their capacity to tackle increasingly complex issues with discipline and creativity, ITP mentors will be there with them.

——-

Zac Burson is the Program Coordinator for the International Telementor Program and a teacher at Bossier Schools in Louisiana. Write to: staff@telementor.org

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