By Patty Cooke / August 22, 2018

Your next STEM mentors: Senior citizens

National Senior Citizens Day was earlier this week (8/22/18). First designated as such in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, National Senior Citizens Day recognizes the importance of senior citizens in our personal lives as well as in our communities (EMS Safety).

As we’ve all seen, senior citizens have a lot to offer, including time, patience, and love, and they are overwhelmingly willing to offer it up freely! At least one center has recognized the importance of senior citizens and the value they bring to children. Providence Mount St. Vincent in Seattle, Washington, houses both an elderly care facility as well as a licensed child care center called the Intergenerational Learning Center. Here, young and old sit side by side, participating in music, art, and other activities. The nursing home residents serve as friends, mentors, and stand-in grandparents while the children, who see everything through eyes of wonder, provide laughter, joy, and boundless energy (Providence Health & Services).

Mentoring STEM

But senior citizens can serve as mentors to students of any age. One important type of mentoring, vital in today’s classrooms, is STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) mentoring. According to the National Mentoring Resource Center, “With the increasing importance of STEM in our society and the continued growth of STEM-related occupations, it is critical that youth from all backgrounds have opportunities to build STEM literacy.”

It’s obvious students benefit from STEM education, but they also benefit from one-on-one or group mentoring, making the two a perfect fit. And the older population, with their abundance of time and expertise, is a great resource for STEM mentoring. “Kids will really listen to elders when there are specific, important steps to putting something together,” says Kindergarten Teacher Mindy Fleming (


Professionals who have retired from STEM fields can be found in every community and make great assets to any classroom. Ask a retired doctor or nurse to come discuss ways to stay healthy with your elementary students or work with groups of your high school students to go over difficult biology or chemistry concepts. Invite a retired architect to help your middle school students build toothpick or balsa bridges and explain why some bridges fail while others stand the test of time. Have a retired accountant or college math professor work with your accounting or algebra class. Meet up with recently retired avionics, electronic, or mechanical engineers at your local airport to discuss their experiences with aviation. Encourage all your mentors to discuss their careers – the good and the bad – so students can get a feel for what those careers really entail.

Finding experts

Not sure where to find these gems? Try calling local STEM businesses (architectural firms, airports or airplane industries, doctors’ offices or hospitals, and so on) and asking about experts or recently retired workers in the area. Connect with your students’ grandparents. Send inquiries to local nursing homes, community centers, and churches.

If you’re still stuck, AARP’s Experience Corps might be your answer. The Experience Corps connects those aged 50 or older with schools as part of a volunteer tutoring program. Volunteers attend 25 hours of training annually and spend five to 15 hours a week in schools, sharing their wisdom and experience. Currently, the Experience Corps is available in 23 US cities.

Every community has senior citizens ready to share their wisdom. Connecting them and your students through STEM mentoring is bound to enrich the classroom and the lives of your students.

National Senior Citizens Day
Providence Mount St. Vincent
STEM Mentoring: Helping Youth Build STEM Literacy through Supportive Relationships
How to Build Intergenerational Opportunities for Learning
Experience Corps: Become an Affiliate


TOPICS: IN THE CLASSROOM, IDEAS & INSPIRATION, Culture, STEM, Careers, Authentic Learning, Hands-on Learning

Patty Cooke

Written by Patty Cooke

Hello! I work as a communications assistant here at Pitsco, editing, writing, helping with publications, and working with other departments to help create awesome STEM materials and resources. I learned my love of storytelling from my dad, who constantly entertained me and my 11 siblings with the most fascinating, albeit fictional, stories. His tales kept us out of our mother’s hair for a while and probably saved her sanity. Our blog posts aren’t fictional, of course, but I still enjoy infusing the same amount of fun that Dad put into his stories. I hope reading these posts brings you equal enjoyment.