An online mentoring scheme in the United States could help reduce the number of women students who drop out of engineering and science courses. MentorNet aims to link 5,000 female students with industry mentors in the next five years, following a pilot programme which linked 200 students with mentors in industry .
Volunteer mentors provide education and career advice to female science students in the US where, as elsewhere, women are a minority in the scientific community. Carol Muller, director of MentorNet, said: "Through email and other emerging technologies, MentorNet can reach more women than would be possible with traditional mentoring. The medium is perfectly suited to exchanges across long distances and time zones. We already have mentors in other countries paired with students in the US - and many of the students are non-US citizens studying in the US."
MentorNet provides web-based training material, newsletters and support. It has plenty of students wishing to participate, but has a shortage of mentors willing to advise and encourage young women pursuing technical careers. MentorNet will be adding online discussion groups for students and mentors later this autumn.
Most of the students joining MentorNet's first semester are undergraduates and Muller explained: "The first and second years are a particularly critical time when female students majoring in engineering or other sciences are most likely to leave their chosen fields of study or drop out."