Many Mentors Through the Pandemic

Back in 2018 Physics and Astronomy graduate student Avery Tishue was interested in connecting with a program that worked with K-12 outreach in underserved communities. For around twelve months prior, undergrad Hannah Margolis had been looking for a way to integrate her mentoring work more permanently in the Dartmouth community. When the two met they worked together to co-found Dartmouth ManyMentors

After receiving official recognition by the Guarini Graduate Student Council, the group was ready to get to work engaging underserved K-12 students interested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities and learning opportunities. They do much of this through recruitment of mentors in the Dartmouth STEM community who provide virtual mentoring. But that's not all.

Over the past two years ManyMentors has been involved in large scale events in the community including last year's LebFest and the Dartmouth250 celebration and have also collaborated with the New Hampshire Academy of Science to support students learning through the summer program and serving as judges on the final presentations.

Now led by Keighley Rockliffe, Armin Tavakkoli, Avery Tishue, and Rebecca Valls, the group has partnered with Mascoma High School to host Zoom discussions led by Dartmouth faculty. These discussions typically involved a topic related to the professor's research, and the high school students were encouraged to read/watch a provided source beforehand to allow them to think of questions. Other mentors also attend the Zoom-ins to spur conversation. Co-leader Avery Tishue says, "It was so exciting to see the curiosity grow in these students! We would love to spread this program to other classrooms and schools."

Co-founder Hannah Margolis has since graduated and now holds a position as a postbaccalaureate researcher at the Mizuno laboratory. When the COVID-19 virus pandemic took hold it seemed a perfect opportunity to flex her outreach muscles, and she wrote a book on viruses for kids, illustrated by Emily Morin, '20.

"With the shutdown of schools, I became incredibly frustrated that all over the country, younger students were suddenly having to study at home and didn't completely understand why," she says. "I know many parents probably haven't learned about viruses since high school biology so it might be difficult for them to give accurate answers to their kids' questions about what was going on and how to stay safe."

Citing Carl Sagan as one of her STEM heroes for his insight into how science can be beyond the reach of ordinary folk, in part due to the poor job the field has done in effectively communicating outcomes, she says she wanted the book to be a simple, easy to understand resource for anyone with questions about viruses.

"I wanted to explain the basics of what viruses are, to remove the mystery around them (they aren't alive, they aren't trying to make you sick, becoming sick is a side effect of viral replication, etc.)," she told us. "No one should be made to feel stupid if they have basic questions about viruses, how they make us sick, or how to stay safe." 

The book is free for anyone who wishes to download it, and if you are interested in getting involved in ManyMentors as a volunteer or as an educator they would be delighted to hear from you. You can reach out through the ManyMentors website.