Studies have identified gaps in the development of undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Students lack communication and problem-solving, impeding employment opportunities post-graduation. It is essential to prepare students for employment in STEM fields, as these fields remain in high demand and offer competitive wages for economic stability. Research has revealed that students gain critical thinking and problem-solving skills through students mentoring experiences. Evidence surrounding the inclusion of active learning strategies for in-classroom pedagogy has expanded in recent years, but the support mechanisms beyond the classroom remain unclear. Herein, we followed students for a decade after participation in our mentoring pre-professional training program, Nebraska STEM for You (NE STEM 4U). This phenomenological study utilized interviewing techniques and descriptive statistics to demonstrate how a midsized, metropolitan university STEM mentoring program supported the development of NE STEM 4U participants. We found that engagement in an after-school mentoring program provided participants with a model of mentorship. Participants also developed transferable professional and personal skill sets, including communication, perspectives, conflict resolution, and professional development.


STEM, qualitative, phenomenology, afterschool program, undergraduates

Author Bio(s)

Pamela Martínez Oquendo is a research assistant at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) and a current member of the STEM Teaching, Research, and Inquiry-based Learning Center (TRAIL) at UNO. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in science education at the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, focusing on the components that support the development of undergraduate students pursuing STEM-related schooling. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: pmartinezoquendo2@huskers.unl.edu

Kristin VanWyngaarden is an instructor at the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she is also currently pursuing her Ed.D. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: kvanwyngaarden@unomaha.edu.

Christine E. Cutucache is an Associate Professor of Biology, Haddix Community Chair of Science, and Director of the STEM Teaching, Research, and Inquiry-based Learning (TRAIL) Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She has two research interests, namely, DBER and cancer biology. She is also the founder of NE STEM 4U, a pre-professional training program in which undergraduate STEM majors provide afterschool STEM programming for youth. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: christine@cutucacheconsolidated.com


The authors thank Dr. George Haddix and the Nebraska University Foundation, the National Science Foundation #1659058, and National Science Foundation #1929154, the Sherwood Foundation, the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and Beyond School Bells, and the Peter Kiewit Foundation for funding this program over the past decade. The authors thank all former undergraduate NE STEM 4U mentors that participated in the current project. Thanks to Collective for Youth (Ms. Gwyn Williams and Ms. Megan Addison) as well as Dr. Chris Schaben, Julie Sigmon, and Jeff Cole. The funders had no participation in data collection, analysis, nor interpretation of data presented. Disclaimer: The information presented herein is solely that of the author’s and do not reflect any opinions of influence from the funding agencies.

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