Final CUOS K–12 Education Outreach Program Report, March 2002

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III. Nuts & Bolts: Replicating Our Organization, part 5

B. Strategies, part 5

8. Provide for personal and career exploration.

We have already noted above how our most refined strategy for this works. Individualized career mentoring by community adults works extremely well, in the estimation of mentors, mentees, community shadowing and tour providers, and the parents of the teen participants.

    Parents and teens begin warily but end up pleased and grateful. Mentors also start with trepidation, many because they are a bit afraid of how it will be to interact with teens. Media images of teens tend to be so negative and stereotypical! But mentors have, without exception, really enjoyed the experience; many return to it regularly.

    Some see it almost as a way to atone for mistakes they may have made as parents. They are in a stage of life (middle aged to retired) where they finally have free time to enjoy and to share, in a way they did not as young parents. They speak of this mentoring as “something we can do for each other’s kids”—partly because of the time factor and partly because, when our children need this guidance most, they may be least ready to accept it from their own parents.

    He was drifting away from us and didn’t want to talk to us—thinking that we just don’t get it and understand him. We needed some other adult to be in his life.  
- Parent of a career mentee
career mentoring group
Middle school teacher Doris,
Kiwanis coordinator Gene, &
Slauson MS career mentee Melanie

    This is not entirely because of teen angst or their sometimes rocky separation from us into individuality. There is also a subconscious desire to please us, or to not disappoint us, that can hamper free thought and honest communication about who they might want to become, independent of our expectations.

    Many career mentors worry about and regret messages they sent their now-grown children when they were teens. They realize during our mentor training (which mostly consists of taking them through the process they’ll use with their mentees) that they made a lot of assumptions and hasty judgments about their own children and grandchildren.

    I thought these kids or grandchildren of mine were “smart” and these others weren’t so smart. Now I can see it’s style. What have we told them? Their whole outlook about themselves for life and what careers or jobs they think they can go into can ride on what we have thought about being “smart” or not.  
- Kiwanis career mentor

    They reflect on how much they and their own children needed things like this mentoring program way back when. They see their adult children struggling in careers to which they are poorly suited and wish they had offered more and/or better guidance.

    I just didn’t think this child of mine was, say, “college material.” Why? Because of grades, or poor scores on tests, or what I thought was their not trying hard enough or being focused on school work. Now I think about how they do learn, and maybe it isn’t the way that we teach in school or college. But if subjects were taught differently, they could do well in this or that subject.

    They reach an awakening about when and how they learned best—that, often, they didn’t “get” something in or because of school, but only later, when they applied it on the job.

    Thinking about hands-on or experiential learning, Karyl is right: the best brain surgeons and orthopedic surgeons learned from hands-on. I had thought of hands-on learning for the skilled trades. Those aren’t lesser jobs, but I thought that if you didn’t do well in school, maybe you would do well working with your hands. Many touted professions have plenty of hands-on and experiential learning baked into their formal education programs—certainly in medical and dental school it is key. And we hold them up as our brightest students.

    Career mentors, too, appreciate the need for reflection—across all our mentors, staff, partners in the community. They note how busy and rushed everyone seems these days.

    We just get too busy to slow down and enjoy and invest in one another, to learn from one another, to support and encourage one another.

    Teens, teachers, college students, Kiwanis members working or retired—we all gain from slowing down, working together, serving together, and reflecting together.

    Those interested in creating a similar partnership can find more explanations and a detailed timeline and tasks on our Web site, at and

    There are other, less individual ways to promote the personal discovery and career exploration that we recommend for young people. The purpose common to all is to address the motivational problems that can interfere with academic achievement. If students see no personal relevance to their studies, it is difficult to stay motivated to work hard at it—even if their aptitudes and skill levels present no problems. Helping students to develop their own career goals can make all the difference.

    Other ways we have approached this include

  • Soliciting tours, career presenters, and job shadowing opportunities, which we post on our Web site so that people geographically within reach can make arrangements themselves to take advantage of them.
  • Sponsoring Career Clubs, usually during or after school at an elementary school, which take a small group through some exercises in thinking about possible futures for themselves, bring in some career presenters, and take a few workplace field trips.
  • Career fairs, held at secondary schools or teen centers, where teens can meet people from many career fields to ask questions about the nature of their work.
  • Personal Discovery workshops, where a small group of teens can go through some on-line diagnostic instruments and discuss the implications of their results.

    As with most of what we do, the content of what they learn is probably less important than the attitudes they form. These kinds of exploration experiences bring home to them that they must act to shape their own lives. Some of our Kiwanis mentors have noted how passive and victim-like teens seem to be at first—“They are buffeted through life.” They learn to take charge of themselves and their futures—a change of incalculable worth, no matter what they end up pursuing.

9. Use technology to widen your reach and to report on your efforts to the community.

When we first established a Web presence for our programs in 1995, none of us knew how to do it. We got some books and some coaching from the technical support people at UM’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departmental Computing Organization—who also generously donated server space for what has come to constitute 10% of their Web server traffic. Today, there are a variety of user-friendly Web composer programs available and a number of free or low-cost hosting options. We highly recommend that similar programs invest in a Web presence, as it gives unparalleled visibility and communications options. You need not be particularly cutting-edge in this; in fact, we are deliberately low-tech (no use of Java scripting or even frames), because most of our “clients” have slow modem connections and/or old hardware that cannot handle the more recent, large browser programs.

    As a side note, while we stopped worrying a year or so ago about our code being back-compatible with Mosaic (the original browser of choice of most of our users), we still get occasional complaints about all our tables from users of ancient non-graphic Internet browsers from the pre-Web, Gopher era. It seems that organizations that offer free server space to non-profits often do so through one of these programs, since it requires orders-of-magnitude less storage space when no graphics are used. So, even if you were not worried about your site being handicapped-accessible (and you should be), you would still want text alternates for all of your graphics—especially for navigation graphics like buttons—for these users. And, of course, they can’t use framed pages at all. The point is that, in order to serve the widest public, you should avoid the newest capabilities in Web design.

    In July 1999, we’re proud to say, UM College of Engineering Dean Stephen Director highlighted our site as one of the university’s “best practices” in a presentation before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Commission on Women and Minorities in Science.

    We have used volunteers and part-time work-study assistants to try to keep up with the Web work. It does take quite an investment of training time before people can truly be of help, however, so we recommend you only try this with detail-oriented folks who will be able to stand doing the work after you have made that investment. Some people actually enjoy it, so look for them!

    Technology can be of great help in efficient management of large programs. For example, we distribute mentor and mentee application forms through our Web site. Originally, they were bit-mapped facsimiles of our forms; now we create PDF files of them and link directly to where users can download the free Acrobat Reader, should they not yet have the program. We still want them mailed in instead of submitted electronically (because we want a signature on the code of conduct), so there is no need to go to electronic filing of forms. If it is too difficult to print out, fill out, and mail in or deliver a form, then the applicant is probably not suited to the program anyway.

    Another aid to program organization is the file sharing of databases. We cannot afford one person to do all our data entry, so we keep the dozen or so current databases on one computer, set up for file sharing by site coordinators with password access. Again, a certain amount of training in the program is required up front, but it simplifies record-keeping enormously. Similarly, allowing coordinators to submit weekly attendance and feedback forms by e-mail has increased the timeliness of their responses! That is also how we gather the majority of our volunteer evaluations and feedback—which responses are always valuable in helping us to gauge and to improve the effectiveness of programs.

    We are especially pleased, however, with the community response to our posting of periodic evaluations and progress reports on the Web. Feedback demonstrates to us that a surprising number and breadth of people are the audience for such reporting, which tends to bring us credibility and new partnerships.

career mentoring group
Kiwanis mentor Si, middle school teacher Doris, and
Slauson MS career mentees Emily, Bonnie, Marly, & Kiesa

    In addition to the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam, Web-site users have come from Argentina, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Thailand, Trinidad/West Indies, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia—that we know of.

    This user data comes from our on-line guestbook, from e-mail to the webmaster and other contacts listed on the site, and from loggate reports generated on the [UM] Reach Out! site only. We cannot get such specific reports on the major part of our Web presence, which is on a different server. Scores more countries are represented in the EECS Web server traffic reports (, but we don’t know which ones are “ours.” The Directory Report shows that requests for pages or parts thereof within our alias directory (mathscience) and our “real” address (~coalitn), combined, constitute 9–13% of the EECS Web Server’s total traffic each month. For a 239-day period stretching from May 2001 to March 2002, traffic on our Web site consisted of 16,496 successful page requests (average) per day, which extrapolates to more than 6,000,000 successful page requests per year. Statistics for the separate [UM] Reach Out! site show that some 9,500 distinct users request some 12,500 pages per year. The counters placed somewhat belatedly on both home pages have recorded more than 180,000 hits, but most people reach us several layers in, through search engines. The bottom line: tens of thousands of people worldwide peruse our Web resources every day—many more than we could ever reach by conventional means.

10. Expect bumps in the road.

True partnership is never easy. We have had difficulties at every one of the dozens of sites at which we have worked. You must focus on defining and overcoming the roadblocks, which is usually easier when you confront, without being judgmental, the partner with whom you are having difficulty.

    The best example would probably be our toughest case, an independent, well-established community center. Because it is relatively well-funded and has a decades-long track record, it serves hundreds of children year-round. Consequently, it is always very crowded and chaotic, and many children are essentially in day care there. Children have been, against our wishes, “assigned” to our science club, intensifying attitude problems. Children of too wide an age range for the effective design of activities have been forced upon the club. We have had to work in part of a very large space, while martial arts and other noisy pursuits went on simultaneously. Center employees have interjected themselves with what we consider inappropriate attempts to impose order or discipline. These were all serious problems—usually a new one each year. As each problem has been solved or at least tempered, it seems that a new one arises. Coordinators burn out at this site, frustrated at their inability to make things work as they would like.

    So, periodically, we withdraw from the site, recharge our batteries for a semester or a year, and then plunge back into the fray. We don’t consider this a failure, an abandonment, or the equivalent of “taking our ball and going home.” Rather, it is an example of moving on when that seems best for all, without burning bridges or leaving hard feelings behind. We usually come back, with new people or a new variation on programming, and try again. Even during our least organized years, programs there have been absolute favorites for some children and some volunteers. The surface appearance does not adequately capture all that is going on. That’s why we keep coming back, even though we will probably never have a smoothly functioning experience there!

    At other sites, we have gone in for group debriefings at the end of the year where it is obvious that our partners feel guilt and shame for “not holding up their end of the bargain.” These sessions are always cathartic, as we point out how much they did manage to do, and under what duress. Public school teachers and principals are particularly prone to blame themselves for not doing enough—when they do so much! They are clearly accustomed to being blamed for all sorts of things and to focusing only on perceived failures. They are so relieved to recognize how much good has been accomplished and to find that we are not judging them. Schools are also very tough to have an impact upon, but this is one reason we keep trying—they need us!


C. Voices, continued

Honestly, there isn’t anybody to help you at school, not really, and you either wear down or give up.

- Summer algebra student

This summer’s math has really been fun. It isn’t a classroom atmosphere. I really like, and need, the one-on-one. I’m not as scared to ask for help or to admit I don’t understand something here. In school, I get scared a lot in math and science classes. I feel dumb, and then sometimes I just feel like giving up and just hanging out with my friends. After a test, if you didn’t do well, nobody is stopping to say “Why?” or, “What don’t you get, so we can stop and help you get it?” It’s so frustrating that you just give up. And it all starts, well, right away—like the first day! You hear what you have to do and how much and when there are tests. Go home. First homework assignment. You’re lost or stuck already, and there you go. Honestly, there isn’t anybody to help you [at school], not really, and you either wear down or give up.

    I liked talking about learning styles, too. My eighth grade science teacher let us do some surveys and talk about learning styles. He told us he was dyslexic and had a really hard time in school with reading and with tests. I’m glad he could tell us that and tell us that it took him a long time to realize he wasn’t dumb or anything. I’m a visual learner and a hands-on learner. I can see that I am getting better with auditory learning, too, but I just do my best the other way. It’s like teachers teach the way they learn. If we don’t match them, well, we are going to have a hard time. I wish we could pick teachers for subjects that teach the way we learn. I think it would be so much better.

The field trips were very effective.

- Parent of summer algebra student

I think [she] learned a lot from her summer experience. She now feels competent at some of the skills she did not master in the 8th grade. The proof in the pudding will be how she performs in high school next year. My sense is some of the field trips were very, very effective at reinforcing the need for math skills as well as even other skills. And, she learned a lot about careers that she never had thought about before.

I don’t trust adults much. They say they are there for you, but they aren’t.

- Summer algebra student

I don’t trust adults much. Sometimes they act like they care, but they don’t. They say they are there for you, but they aren’t. People here are people who really care and I can see I can trust them. They are here and they help us and they are, like, straight up with us on what we can do and learn and what they can do to help us learn. Trust is a gift and you have to be careful who you give it to. You can tell if somebody is real if you see them every day, and in different places or situations. It’s like: are they the same person all the time, or do you catch them being someone different? I watch out for that. Everyone here, you can trust them.

I’m taking down my own “I hate math” wall.

- Summer algebra student

I had a big wall up about math. I’ve been so frustrated and I’ve been so behind. I have a learning disability, but now I say I have a learning difference. I mean I can learn math, but it can’t be in a big group. I need teachers who will actually help me one-on-one if I need it, or give me more time or different ways to learn something. I’m not dumb, you know. I think I’m really smart, but I can’t do it with lectures like that or big classes. I can see that math is like a key that I just have to have. I don’t think I really have a choice. Just about anything I want to go into, it’s going to make me have math.

I am finding out this summer that not only can I do math, but—you’re going to laugh now—I like it sometimes. I guess it’s like they say, if you get frustrated enough and down on something, you just say, “I hate this, or I can’t do this, or I don’t need this, anyhow.” But that really isn’t so. If you can get something, even slower than you want, but you get it and keep getting it and see that you are getting it—see that you are making some progress, you know—you get the attitude that this isn’t bad and I can do it. That’s what I see for me this summer. That wall is coming down, not as fast as you’d like, but I’m telling you, I’m taking down my own “I hate math” wall.

There. Aren’t you happy? I bet that’s what you were hoping I’d get out of this! [big, big smile]

Sometimes what you think is most on my mind just isn’t.

- Summer algebra student

When you need help, you need to know who you can go to and know they will be there. I like that here. You can get advice if you want it, or just talk, or get help with school, or talk about what’s going on or what choices you have, [including] choices you didn’t think you had.

Teachers and parents don’t know what we’re dealing with. I mean, we aren’t just dealing with school or sports. We can get drugs so easily. Every weekend there are parties, and everybody is drinking and doing. I’m just saying that we are dealing with lots and, well, sometimes what you think is most on my mind just isn’t. It's like: who are my friends and how can I find different friends?

Nobody has really talked to me or made me think about me.

- Middle school career mentee

I really didn’t know what to think but [my teacher] thought [career mentoring] would be good for me. Well, I’m really glad I did this now. This was way different from anything we’ve done [at school]. I mean, we just meet and we sit and we talk and he listens to me. He really cares about me, I mean, who I am and who I want to be, like what I can do and what I could do in a job. I’ve done a lot of thinking this semester about me, like how I learn best and how come it’s that way. Like what am I really good at—what am I really good at—and how I could go into some job that would use that. Nobody has really talked to me or made me think about me, my jobs, and I guess I just didn’t think about that. But I like to think about it and I think it isn’t that way off. I mean I’m going to be out there pretty soon and what am I going to do?

I liked learning about jobs and colleges and places you can go for skills and things like that. I don’t know if I’ll go to college, but I think I might. If I do, I know I have to have some okay grades and stuff. But I also might do some other things that I really didn’t know about before. I’ve thought about building houses and things like that, but maybe I’d like to design houses or be the owner of a company that adds onto houses and builds decks and things like that. Maybe I’d like to plan subdivisions or be an architect, you know? This was a real different experience. I mean, I really liked talking and thinking about me and finding out about jobs out there. I think every kid should have this. I don’t think anybody is really thinking about this stuff and we should be. I mean, it’s our lives, you know? Maybe somebody could think we’re too young or something, but I don’t think so. We need to be thinking about this stuff. Well, I learned a lot and I’m really glad I did this.

If they need some extra help, it just doesn’t happen.

- Father of summer algebra student

I’m so happy this program is available. I know that math is so important and if you don’t feel good about it, you will find lots of doors closed off to you. Our school is just so big and the classes are so big. If you need that personal touch or maybe some extra help or individual time, well, it just doesn’t happen. I’ve helped my kids from time to time, and sometimes I just don’t know what pieces they are missing, but I know they are. When you move on to something new and you didn’t really get what was just covered, you get behind and things coming up don’t make sense, you know what I mean? I’m hoping that the kids can stop a minute and figure out what they need more help on and get that help.

I can get so down when I feel like I’m getting lost and behind.

- Summer algebra student

The new insight I really got this summer was that I am very smart. And I have got to look up more, be more positive in school, ask questions, go see my teachers. And I have to lighten up on myself, I can get so down when I feel like I’m getting lost and behind or then I just say flat out that I’m stupid or I just can’t do math and things like that. I know now that that isn’t true, it’s a lie, I am smart. I just need more time sometimes.

I feel like I’ve got a new shot at this.

- Summer algebra student

I feel like I’ve got a new shot at this whole math school thing. I didn’t feel like a player before, to be honest. I mean, I went ’cause I had to, but I didn’t get it and I don’t think I even cared that much about it. I do now. I mean, I’d better if I want to do what I want to do with my life.

visiting the vet
Career mentee at the
veterinarian's office

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