New study explores individual differences in youth’s preferences for matched-ethnic mentors in STEM

.New study explores individual differences in youth's preferences for matched-ethnic mentors in STEM

Syed, M., Goza, B.K., Chemers, M.M. & Zurbriggen, E.L. (2012). Individual differences in preferences for matched-ethnic mentors among high-achieving ethnically diverse adolescents in STEM. Child Development83 (3), 896-910. (reviewed by Stella Kanchewa)


Significant ethnic disparities exist in adolescents and young adults’ participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, including undergraduate and graduate academic programs.

Many observers have cited the lack of minority STEM mentors as a barrier to participation. But do all ethnic minority youth place the same level of importance on having an ethnically matched role models and mentors. The current study explored:

  • variations in how important it is for adolescents to have matched-background mentors
  • associations between importance and adolescents’ desire to pursue a career in the sciences


The current study included 265 high school students (mean age = 15.8), who attended a 4-week residential science education program (The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Sciences – COSMOS).

The students completed measures at the beginning and end of the program assessing their sense of the relationship between their background (e.g., ethnicity, gender, social class) and science experiences, as well as students’ sense of science self-efficacy, identity as a science student, and commitment to pursuing a science career.


  • Amongst minority students, there was considerable variation in students preferences for matched-ethnic mentors
  • Compared to White students, underrepresented minority and Asian American students reported that
    • placed greater importance on the importance of having a matched-background mentor
    • had less contact with matched-background mentors
    • increases in their contact with matched-background mentors over the course of the program


This study demonstrated how participation in a brief science education program, with science professionals from demographically similar backgrounds who could serve as potential mentors and role models, can support underrepresented minority student’s developing identities within the STEM fields.

Individual differences in students’ preferences for shared matched-ethnic mentors in STEM should be considering. In doing so, the mentoring process can be individualized in order to maximize positive relationship development and youth