High Dosage, High Impact: Skills Based Volunteering in a Virtual World with the Illinois Science and Technology Institute

*This Blog was guest-written by Sarah Perret-Goluboff of the Illinois Science and Technology Institute. 

As the pandemic restructures every aspect of life, educators are turning to new resources to create authentic experiences and connections for their students in the coming academic year. While schools settle into a new normal, volunteers across the country are stepping up to ensure students have the best opportunities to learn. With the Mentor Matching Engine, created by the Illinois Science and Technology Institute, volunteers are able to virtually mentor high school students through research projects, building real relationships online and helping students to grow the skills they need to be successful later in life. With the great influx of students involved, ISTI needs your help! Use your skills to mentor a high school student and create a lasting impact in our virtual world.

High schools across the nation are adapting to a new educational environment and seeking out meaningful experiences in a time of isolation. The Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI) has been innovating in this space for years, working to connect students with mentors regardless of geographic barriers. They do this with the Mentor Matching Engine (MME), an online collaboration platform that connects students with mentors on student led research projects. Not only does this mean that students can work with experts from anywhere (ISTI has matched students with mentors from the Shedd Aquarium, the US Geological Survey, Chicago School of Professional Psychology California, and more), it means that professionals with busy schedules can connect with students regularly, in a meaningful way. To build a diverse, skilled STEM talent pipeline student need long term exposure to professionals in the field rather than a traditional one-day job shadow or quick career fair. MME provides that access.

ISTI partners with schools across Illinois to take student research to the next level. Students select and direct their own topic with the enhancement of mentor expertise. Mentors from around the world have access to safely collaborate with students in a virtual setting and share their skills and passions. Student projects range from Chemistry and Marine Science to the social sciences, public policy, and literature which they can explore with their mentors through ongoing discussion as well as video conferencing and document sharing. Working as collaborators allows for deeper and more significant mentorship which has led to internships, graduate level research opportunities, and career exploration.

One project from this past year that stood out was Mental Toughness in Athletics: A qualitative study of frequency of reporting concussions. Mentor, Allyssa from the Michigan Concussion Center at University of Michigan, worked with Madelyn, a student in Northern Illinois. Madelyn wanted to research why athletes are not seeking professional treatment for a concussion, despite the well-known risks of the head injury and possible long-term effects. She conducted preliminary research on the problem but encountered a gap in the research. What she found was the appearance of a “mental toughness stigma”. This phenomenon explains how athletes may not acknowledge or treat injuries for fear of appearing weak. This research would be significant to policy changes. Madelyn believed we could learn how to better teach athletes how serious concussions truly are or change the team culture to value physical health. Through her ongoing communication with her mentor, Madelyn was well equipped to dive into research, incorporate feedback, and build confidence in her writing. She wrote the following to Allyssa at the conclusion of her project.

“Having the opportunity to learn from you and work with you has been so beneficial for me not only as a student, but a person in general. You went above and beyond for me and I cannot express to you enough how grateful I am for you! I appreciate all of the time you spent helping me edit my paper and carry out my research from the beginning of my literature review to the ending presentation. Before working with you I had no idea how to write a research paper and especially how to find the best sources, now I am confident in my academic paper thanks to you!”

Now more than ever, virtual mentorship is needed. That’s where you come in. ISTI is looking for mentors for the 2020-21 academic year! Whether you are a professional or graduate student, you can make an impact. To see the impactful mentorship from the past year, check out ISTI’s Facebook page!

Sign up to learn more here or contact Sarah Perret-Goluboff at

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