29 March 2021

How to be an effective STEM role model

Posted by Shane Hanlon

The SciGirls Role Model Strategies guide offers basic training for role models, introducing you to best practices for your volunteer efforts. Credit: Twin Cities PBS/SciGirls

By Jessica Taylor

Several years ago, I became interested in training colleagues to work outreach events. I was specifically interested in addressing the gender gap in the sciences and making sure these interactions practiced gender equitable strategies.  With the help of my team we developed a role model training program. We pulled from great resources such as the SciGirls Role Model Strategy Guide, TechBridge’s Role Models Matter resources, and publications from the Association of University Women and National Academies. Our first pilot training went really well, but we noticed some commented that they weren’t originally sure if they should attend because they didn’t know if they were a role model.

They were right, you don’t always know if someone considers you a role model. Only a person who interacts with you has the authority to give you that title. But what if they do see you as a role model? Since you don’t know when this might happen it’s best to always engage others in a way that encourages them in STEM and places you in their mind as a positive role model. We renamed our training, “Empowering Effective Role Models: Gender Equitable Strategies to Encourage Youth to Pursue STEM” and talk about how working in STEM, and especially at NASA, provides us a unique platform to engage with others.

Training participants discuss strategies to engage girls in various outreach events. Credit: Jessica Taylor

Being an effective science communicator is important when interacting with others. Some of the role model strategies such as make a personal connection or share your passion are also effective strategies in science communication. Other role model strategies build on these skills and address the needs of the youth; such as, describe how STEM makes the world a better place or promote a perseverance and growth mindset. I think one of the most important strategies we can all implement is to give our audience an action, whether it’s one child or a classroom, offer STEM resources and academic guidance. Make it appropriate for their age group. Are they in college? Suggest they connect with professional societies. Are they in high school? Talk about where they can find internships and encourage them to continue their STEM classes. Are they younger students? Tell their families about local camps, virtual connections with scientists, and remind them to take math and science through high school. Are they an adult? Tell them about ways they can learn about scientific discoveries on social media or your organization’s website.


Incorporate these strategies the next time you engage in an outreach event. While we might never know if we were seen as someone’s role model, we know we engaged them in a way that encouraged them in STEM.

– Jessica Taylor is a physical scientist at NASA and mom of two strong girls. Students can connect with her through FabFems.