Mentor FAQ

Thank you for becoming a mentor on the Mentor Matching Engine. You are now available to be matched with a student project. Please note that students and teachers will reach out to mentors at many points throughout the year. Don't worry if you are not matched right away!

Please contact with questions at any point along the way. Again, thank you!

What is the Mentor Matching Engine (MME)?

Mentor Matching Engine (MME) is an invitation-based, web platform that connects Illinois high school students and their teachers to STEM professionals who serve as online mentors. 

How does the Mentor Matching Engine work?

Invited mentors create a profile on the MME with areas of expertise. Students develop research questions with the help of a teacher. Once a teacher approves a research question, a student may search for mentors whose areas of expertise apply to the student's research question. The MME provides a student with a list of applicable mentors. A student or teacher on behalf of the student can make a formal request directly to a particular mentor to participate in the project. Mentors may accept, decline, or ask for more information in response to a request. Once both the student and mentor agree on the match the mentoring begins. 

Who is a mentor?

A mentor is a professional in a STEM field who volunteers to provide guidance and support to students that helps bring real-world expertise to student research. Mentors may work in a university or industry as a scientist, researcher, graduate student, lab technician, engineer, designer or manager. Mentors can assist student inquiry by asking questions alongside the student, connecting students to knowledge, expertise, and professional experience.

How much time does it take to be a mentor?

How much time a mentor devotes to mentoring is dependent upon the mentor's schedule and the scope of the student project. A common expectation is one hour per week for mentoring a student, facilitated by electronic correspondence on the MME site. Student projects may take place over a few weeks, a semester, or a school year depending on the project. Before agreeing to mentor a student, a mentor should think about the amount of time they are able to commit to the project for its duration. 

When are mentors needed?

The timing of student projects varies. There will be a need for mentors throughout the course of the year, including during the summer for some projects. It may take weeks or months for a mentor to receive a request to participate in a project or a match may occur quickly depending on the scope and timing of student projects. There are a few times during the year when there may be a surge in numbers of mentors needed including September/October as Fall semester projects begin, January for Spring semester projects and industry sponsored challenges, and March/April for summer research projects.

What kinds of projects need mentors?

The Mentor Matching Engine can be used to enhance student learning in several different scenarios. For instance, some students may need a mentor to help with an independent research project over the course of a semester or year-long class. Other students will work in teams in school or after school to participate in an industry sponsored challenge or team projects. Additionally, some projects will be more advanced while other students may be in the beginning stages of a project and need assistance with refining or constructing their research question. Student will conduct research in most imaginable fields including biology, engineering, physics, math, computer science, and the social sciences.

Who are the students and teachers who need mentors?

Mentors on the Mentor Matching Engine have the opportunity to impact learning for a range of high school students and teachers. Students and teachers represent diverse schools in terms of geographic location across Illinois, race, socio-economic status, education level, and size of school. Some students will have experience conducting independent research guided by veteran research teachers. For others, this project may be an initial attempt by teachers to provide real-world learning experiences to their students.

Is teaching experience needed to mentor?

No. The Mentor Matching Engine is designed to connect professionals working in STEM fields to students and teachers in order to connect classroom learning to the larger world. Mentors, teachers, and students all have a great deal to offer through this learning experience and a great deal to gain. Teachers remain deeply involved in the learning process and can be a resource to mentors. There are supportive tools on the Mentor Matching Engine for professionals to feel confident to share their skills and experience with students.

Can more than one mentor work with a student or team of students?

Yes! Student research experiences should mirror a collaborative workplace. Rarely does one individual take a project from start to finish. Mentors may invite colleagues from other departments or divisions to bring specific expertise to a project. Additionally, a mentor may bring on lab technicians, graduate students or other designees who can help to ensure a student has consistent experience.

Can a mentor work with more than one student or student team?

Yes! You may be requested to mentor more than one student and it is up to the discretion of the mentor to decide how many students they would like to work with. Mentors may also work with a team of students who are working together on a research project or industry sponsored challenge.

Will mentoring happen exclusively online or also in person?

Most mentoring will occur within the Mentor Matching Engine though the portal can certainly be used to enhance an in-person mentor relationship. If you are mentoring as part of the STEM Challenges, you will be using MME as a supplement to the in person engagements. There will be times when a mentor and student or student team may meet in person at a company or university – at the discretion and planning of the student's teacher. Unless directed by a teacher, a mentor should not engage in any in-person meetings or communication outside of the MME (see Mentor Guidelines).

What is a mentor supervisor?

Every mentor who participates in the Mentor Matching Engine must be invited and must pass a background check. Corporate and university partners will appoint a mentor supervisor to manage the mentor invitation process, verify background checks and enhance partnering opportunities. 

What does it take to be a good mentor?

The short answer is that almost any interested and engaged adult can be a good mentor and can make a difference in the lives and education of young people by sharing their expertise, providing guidance, and cultivating greater interest in R&D work and STEM careers. The longer answer is that there are many common qualities that outstanding mentors develop. Please refer to Qualities of an Outstanding Mentor. In addition there are certain expectations that ALL mentors must adhere to for the safety and well-being of all involved. All mentors must verify that they agree to the Mentor Guidelines.

Why do mentors need to complete a background check?

Background checks are standard practice for any adult interacting with children through a formal system, such as an educational program. Background checks are performed to protect all parties. Background checks will be authenticated through the MME and are the responsibility of the mentor and mentor supervisor to obtain.

What if problems arise that a mentor is unsure how to handle?

The mentoring relationship does not happen in a vacuum and there are many layers of support available. As a mentor you can contact the teacher by clicking on Participants once in the student's project and then clicking on the envelope button. Additionally, you can contact MME administrators by emailing at any time. If you would like more information on how to mentor on a specific project you can also email at any time. Do not hesitate to contact any of these resources depending on the need.