[Lessons Learned] Being a MOUSE Mentor

Random Observation/Comment #416: Mentorship is a two-way street. I often learn as much from the students as they learn from me.

see lemons be a mouse mentor

Recently, I was given the opportunity to participate in a semester-long mentorship with the MOUSE program at Baruch College Campus High School (BCCHS).  Each school has a slightly different program, but our set-up is driven by a history teacher who just wanted to help her students get exposure to more hands-on technology classes.

The DIY project provides HS students with an early glimpse at college engineering/design product classes. Here’s what makes this program unique for High School students:

  • “Work experience”. As mentors, we have completed many projects that range from software to our own side projects. What classes don’t usually teach is the actual “work experience” of directly facing issues with planning, preparing, and executing these projects.
  • Company-style responsibility. Instead of telling the students what to do, we let them choose their own projects and set their own expectations. The mentors are consultants more than a manager for each 5-person group. We’re invested in their deliverables, but not controlling the way they run their projects.  We offer guidance and ask the right questions so that students can have that “ah-ha” moment of seeing how complex projects can become when one unravels all the different aspects.
  • Defined roles. Each student is assigned a role: Designer, Engineer, and Marketer.  These roles in real life pull at each other with their own interests. We try to teach the students to consider all perspectives and have each of them take stake in their own deliverables. This means that if you think like an Engineer, you should think about what you can actually build for a prototype that balances the goals from Designer and Marketer.
    • For example, Marketers tend to aim big and try to enter the market with a unique project; Designers draw based on user needs, but probably only meet half of the marketer’s scope; Engineers need to pull that back even further because the designs may not be buildable; and Project managers need to pull everything together to make sure we set expectations for what’s finally delivered.  I think this dynamic is hard to explain without experiencing it firsthand.

Hopefully, this type of classroom dynamic with corporations will be implemented with other school programs. I really find hands-on projects more fun and realistic. If we challenge students to take ownership of their idea and grow with it, I think we’ll all be surprised at how incredible these projects can become.  Even if they don’t design the next kickstarter million dollar idea, I think they get more exposure to real-world thought processes and teamwork.

~See Lemons Volunteer