Massachusetts General Hospital Science Fair Mentor Program Increases STEM Learning for Middle School Students

If you’ve ever visited the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Boston campus, then you know it’s buzzing with people—patients, administrators, physicians, surgeons, researchers—and if you look carefully you may even see students from the James P. Timilty Middle School participating in an unconventional, yet highly successful science fair mentor program.

Twenty-eight years ago, Dr. Harold Orf, Vice President of Research at Massachusetts General Hospital and Roger Harris, former Principal at James P. Timilty Middle School saw a need for experiential STEM learning among Boston youth. They formed a partnership so local students would have exposure to Research/Science professionals while gaining a practical appreciation for science and how it affects everyday life. This partnership launched what is now known as the MGH-Timilty Science Fair Mentor Program.

New Discoveries

Each year from October to February, the MGH-Timilty Science Fair Mentor Program serves 50 7th and 8th graders. Students have the freedom to choose their science project topic and research question, and are then matched with MGH professionals who serve as Science Fair Mentors. Every other week, students meet with their mentors at MGH who guide them through each stage of the scientific process.

“Students are paired with caring mentors, most of whom work in STEM fields. Often the program results in very positive connections that help them tap into their future visions and aspirations for themselves,” says Tracy Stanley, Senior Program Manager, Center for Community Health Improvement at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Exposing students to multiple opportunities while they are at MGH is part of the process. Mentors share their own educational background and career path with their mentees, so students have an understanding of how they, too, can achieve similar career success.

“What we are finding consistently is that the mentoring relationship is often the most important facet of the program to the students and, I believe the same is true, for the mentors,” says Tracy.

Hard Work & Outstanding Results

Students who participate in the MGH-Timilty Science Fair Program work diligently each week to complete their project. Timilty Middle School has even created STEM periods twice a week for program participants to work on their science fair projects in between MGH visits.

These specialty periods allow students to work at their own pace, ask questions during the process, and get real-time support from MGH Youth Program staff, their Science Fair Mentors, and school staff—all proving to be extremely beneficial. This past year at the Boston Citywide Fair, one 7th grade student received the Christa McAuliffe Award for the earning the highest score in her division (this particular student was mentored by a Timilty alum!).

“We’re so proud of our students for their hard work this year,” says Tracy. “13 of our students presented their posters at the Boston Citywide Fair. Three of those students were award recipients and will be progressing to the Massachusetts State Science Fair in early June.”

While not all students come out of the program with a greater interest in STEM, they do have a better understanding of the various career options in the STEM field, including research and healthcare.

“Before participating in our program, many of our students think that to work in a hospital you must be a doctor or nurse; they quickly learn from their mentor and exposure to the hospital setting that this is clearly not the case.”

Read more about STEM learning and educating our region’s youth:

4 Do-It-Yourself STEM Activities to Get Your Child Thinking Like A Pro

The Future of STEM in Greater Boston and What You Need to Know