Tech Wizards – Building social support through science mentoring

The Issue

Studies of mentoring and informal science programs have shown that adult mentors can play an important role in facilitating the development of positive identities for youth in informal science education by providing youth with opportunities to see themselves as capable of knowing, understanding, and doing science (NRC, 2009). Family, peers, mentors, and community members can provide social support by providing information, advice, material assistance, concern, encouragement, and feedback. When informal science mentoring opportunities are combined with social support, they have the potential to more positively impact participants in ways that pursuing these aspirations alone cannot meet.

What Has ANR Done?

Since 2013, the Monterey and San Benito County 4-H youth development program has been delivering the 4-H Tech Wizards program to traditionally under-served audiences in an effort to use science as a way to build social support through peer mentoring. Participating in weekly program sessions throughout the course of 12-months, high school aged teens mentor elementary students on robotics, engineering, gardening, nutrition, and other science-based topics to develop healthy and positive relationships with science and each other. To date 465 elementary students, 75 high school teens and 34 professional staff have participated in the project which has led to over 3000 mentoring hours.

The Payoff

Using informal science mentors correlates to high levels of support to achieve academic and career goals.

Mentees used the perceptions of social support survey, a 9-point Likert-type scale (0 - 3 = low, 4 – 6 = medium, 7 – 9 = high) to self-report how much support they receive from family, their peers in the mentoring program, their mentor, and community in achievement of their academic and career goals. The results showed that 90 % of mentees ranked support from their mentor as high, 78 % found support from their family was high, 73 % noted high support from other mentees, and 63% found high support from their community. The significance of mentees indicating high support from their mentors in supporting academic achievement goals suggests that mentors play an important role in creating a positive learning environment where learning, exploration, and investigation can happen with the guidance of an understanding and supportive mentor.

Clientele Testimonial

“Informational support has to be the most prominent type of support in the class this year. Everyone is always so eager to help, explain, or demonstrate how certain activities are done. The best aspect of this is that the mentors encourage this. If they are asked a clarification question, they open it up to the group in order for them to answer it”. - Site Coordinator

“Everyone in class has a sense of belonging. They might be a rambunctious bunch, but they are always very inclusive of everyone in the class. I feel that it is the way the lessons are set-up that gives the students the opportunity to interact in a more social atmosphere as opposed to reading from a textbook”. - Program Leader

“Whenever the students would get frustrated with other students or whenever they would struggle with the activity, the mentors were always there trying to help them relax and giving them alternative options on how to tackle the question they were having trouble with.” - Program Leader


Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty, County Director: San Benito County, Science Literacy Youth Development Advisor: Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito Counties,

UCCE San Benito County
3228 Southside Road
Hollister, CA 95023
831-637-5346 x 12
831-637-7111 (fax)