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Wichita finalist in contest for $1 million for mentoring programs

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at 9:43 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at 9:43 p.m.

Wichita is a finalist in a national contest that aims to help cities bolster mentoring programs in science, technology, engineering and math.

The US2020 City Competition, a new education organization based in Boston, ultimately will provide three to five winning cities with nearly $1 million in resources based on their plans to increase STEM mentoring programs for girls, low-income youths and students of color.

“We have a lot of good things going on in the city,” said Lawrence Whitman, associate dean for undergraduate education at Wichita State University’s College of Engineering. “We’re not starting at zero, so that really helps us.

“This (contest) would take us to the next level.”

WSU is heading the local coalition. The team includes representatives from the city of Wichita, Wichita public schools, the Wichita Catholic Diocese, area nonprofits and local industries such as Spirit AeroSystems and NetApp.

Wichita’s team applied for the contest and was picked as one of 13 finalists out of 52 applicants nationwide. The winners, who will be chosen in February, will receive funds and consulting services to help set up their programs.

Other cities picked as finalists were Allentown, Pa.; Baton Rouge, La.; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Houston; Indianapolis; New York; Philadelphia; Research Triangle, N.C.; San Francisco; and Tulsa.

Wichita has an extraordinary number of STEM professionals, with the third-highest concentration of engineers in the nation, Whitman said.

He said winning the competition would allow the city access to a state-of-the-art, online platform that would better match potential mentors with students – and not just for one-time speaking engagements or Career Day visits to classrooms.

“That’s good, but it’s not really mentoring,” Whitman said. “Mentoring is where you have a relationship over a period of time.

“If we can get current, practicing engineers and scientists from underrepresented groups to go out, (students) could see them and say, ‘If they can do that, maybe I can do that.’ ”

Wichita’s team will join other finalists in Boston for a two-day strategy session in early December. Teams will collaborate with experts and peers to refine their strategies, and second-round applications will be due in January.

Whitman said the Wichita team’s proposal is not yet finalized, and officials still are seeking help from those in STEM industries and mentoring organizations.

“It’s not too late to get involved,” he said.

For more information, contact Whitman at 316-978-5907 or e-mail him at larry.whitman@wichita.edu.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @suzannetobias.

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