- November 29th, 2016
Rachel Stewart became involved in mentoring “by accident. I signed up for a class as a freshman, and it turned out to be a mentoring class. I was hooked.”
Rachel’s initial introduction to mentoring came through this class and the READ program in the Honors College, which took her into local elementary schools to read to students and do activities to help them relate to the book. Her original mentees were two girls in 5th grade, and she loved working with them. Although she did not originally intend to become a mentor, she describes the experience as “rejuvenating.”
Now a senior majoring in economics and finance, Rachel is heavily involved with the Honors College’s Educational Outreach program as director of BRIGHT, an initiative that she developed. A couple of years ago, several students researched and pitched ideas for new educational programs, and Rachel’s was selected. BRIGHT introduces children in pre-school and kindergarten to the STEM fields-science, math, and engineering- through books and related fun activities.
Although those subjects may sound advanced for such small children, Rachel’s research indicated that it’s important to get young kids interested in these topics. “Starting this early really makes a difference in closing the racial and gender gaps with regard to who goes into these fields. Because these fields are growing right now, access to them is important for upward mobility.”
How do you make science and math accessible to 4 and 5 year olds? It’s actually not that hard, Rachel says. “Kids that age are so curious. We might read The Three Little Pigs and then help the kids to make structures out of popsicle sticks.”
According to Vicki Holt, Coordinator of Educational Outreach for the Honors College, “Rachel’s idea of focusing BRIGHT on STEM was spot on. She has done a tremendous job of researching and developing this program into something that has been well received and highly requested by teachers in local schools.”
In return, Rachel says, “Mrs. Holt is the ultimate support system,” Rachel says, “but she lets [students] have a lot of responsibility.”
Now the director of the program that was her brainchild, Rachel has overall responsibility for BRIGHT, including the students who serve as site coordinators, facilitators, and mentors. She also develops the curriculum and visits the schools. Despite all the moving pieces, Rachel says, “It does not feel like work.”
Seeing BRIGHT, which began as an idea she researched and pitched to Mrs. Holt, impact hundreds of children is something Rachel describes as her biggest achievement at UA. She is grateful for the way the Honors College helped make this achievement possible. “The Honors College is a really welcoming environment,” she says, “and a place where ideas can grow.”
Is teaching in the future for Rachel? Possibly, but if so, the students will be older than those she works with now. She will graduate in May 2017 and anticipates eventually going on to her Ph.D. If she does, her career path just might lead her back into teaching- at the college level.