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November 16, 2023

To Support Nationwide STEM and Environmental Education Mentoring Initiative for Youth in Under-Resourced Communities

Mystic Aquarium proudly announces the receipt of a $2-million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in support of its national STEM Mentoring program. The goal of the STEM Mentoring program is to positively impact the social development and academic achievement of 6- to 10-year-old youth from under-resourced communities by providing high-quality, conservation-based group mentoring experiences in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“This grant enables Mystic Aquarium to advance our work with youth-serving organizations throughout the United States to provide young people with caring mentors, transferable STEM skills, and the tools to tackle environmental issues unique to their own communities,” said Katie Cubina, Senior Vice President of Mission Programs for Mystic Aquarium and Project Director.

Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney added, “Sea Research Foundation’s Mystic Aquarium has a long history of working successfully to connect students to its STEM Mentoring program to improve social development and academic achievement, and ultimately reduce juvenile delinquency among participating youth. My office and I were pleased to help secure this $2-million grant to allow the Aquarium to continue growing this important program for youth in eastern Connecticut. This new federal funding is a testament to the success of the program and the leadership and persistence of Susette Tibus and Katie Cubina and the entire staff.”

The proven STEM Mentoring program connects youth with peer and adult mentors, at a 4:1 mentee-to-mentor ratio, in weekly after-school sessions that cover a wide variety of topics, including team-building, career exploration, and STEM content — all united under a conservation theme. Some of the activities that mentees and mentors engage in together include testing water quality, building models of renewable energy devices, and taking action to protect threatened and endangered animals.

The weekly STEM Mentoring session also prepare youth to participate in Mystic Aquarium’s growing Environmental Stewardship initiative, where youth design their own projects to address an environmental issue in their local community. Past projects include creating butterfly gardens, initiating recycling programs, helping to restore wetlands, and organizing community cleanups.

An additional feature of the STEM Mentoring program is a Leadership Academy for peer mentors participating in the program. These youth, ages 12–17, come to Mystic for a week in the summer to live on a local college campus and attend workshops on topics such as leadership skill-building, hands-on STEM experiences, how to improve community connectedness for mentees, and how to help mentees design and implement their own environmental stewardship projects.

“The Leadership Academy is about bringing youth together in community to build a range of leadership skills through workshops, career exploration, and field experiences. It is about youth voice and youth choice — empowering peer mentors to be leaders in the STEM Mentoring program and in their local communities. It is a truly amazing experience for all,” added Cubina.

The STEM Mentoring program will engage approximately 1,000 mentees and 250 mentors at dozens of youth-serving organizations in more than 15 states and territories. Each participating organization will receive a subaward through the grant to support the implementation of the program.

The formal programming will kick-off in early 2024 with a series of online trainings during which program staff from each site will be trained in best practices in mentoring and STEM content. Staff from each site will then train their mentors and facilitate the weekly group mentoring sessions, beginning in the spring of 2024. All elements of the program are aimed at building transferrable STEM skills in youth, while also fostering conservation- and community-minded citizens of the future.