First published in AWIS Magazine Volume 29, issue 1 (Winter 2000)
Now that distance learning is part of higher education and class notes are being routinely posted at Web sites, can mentoring via the Internet (i.e., telementoring) be far behind? More importantly, can the Internet become a viable medium for mentoring activities? One can begin to examine these issues by reading a short description of the first mentor found in WomentorSM: Promoting Mentors for Women in Business. This site discusses the character Mentor, who helped the son of Odysseus fight for leadership during his father's absence in The Odyssey. Other sites that provide general information about mentoring are:
Science Telementoring Sites
Certainly, there are science mentoring activities that can be enhanced by using the Internet. There are sites that profile women scientists as positive role models-what they have done and how they did it.
Information about careers in science and organizations for women in science are also available on the Internet. These sites are too numerous to list. However, a good starting point is the AWIS homepage. Click on Links to access sites on organizations for women in science, general women's organizations, and science and math mentoring sites.
In addition, there are sites that use distance technology (such as email, text, audio or video conferencing) to mentor. This is where use of the Internet can be a real advantage. Potential mentors and mentees register online and then are matched up by the web site sponsor. Mentoring then proceeds by email or telephone. There are many organizations that are setting up these telementoring sites between students, faculty, and scientists. A few of these sites are:
The International Telementor Center. This is a program at the Center for Science, Mathematics & Technology Education at Colorado State University (CSMATE) that facilitates electronic mentoring relationships between professional adults and students worldwide.
CyberSisters!. This is an educational telementoring program in science, math, and technology for middle school girls that uses mentors from Oregon State University and University of Oregon.
MentorNet. This is the National Electronic Industrial Mentoring Network for Women in Engineering and Science. The program matches women studying engineering or science at a participating college or university with professional scientists and engineers working in industry. This site has a wealth of mentoring information specifically for women and minority scientists.
Another type of telementoring is the "ask an expert" web site. In this format, anyone can ask a question of a scientist about technical issues, careers in science, or other issues. For example, The MAD Scientist Network is "the laboratory that never sleeps" with the "collective crania of scientists from around the world fielding questions in different areas of science." Also, see PhysLINK, a site with resources and educational materials for physics, science, and engineering. This site features questions and answers about physics.
The Digital Divide
Unfortunately, those most in need of mentoring often do not have access to the Internet. Statistics show that members of certain minority groups, including African-Americans, Hispanics, and those with low incomes, are less likely to use the Internet. And girls still lag far behind boys in using computers. The demographics of Internet use are described and discussed in a report by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the Department of Commerce, entitled Falling Through the Net: Defining the digital divide. It is important to realize that there are many barriers to be overcome before telementoring can be universally available to everyone.
What We Can Do
The Internet presents new possibilities for mentoring. You may be able to participate in telementoring through your job in academia, government, or industry. You can also sign up with MentorNet, the program affiliated with AWIS. In addition, chapters with web sites can put up an "Ask a Woman Scientist" feature. See the AWIS site for Metro New York for an example.