About us

The mission of Letters to a Pre-Scientist is to connect each student with a STEM pen pal to humanize STEM professionals, demystify STEM career pathways, and inspire curiosity about a future in STEM.

The Draw-A-Scientist Test, a statistically valid measure of student stereotypes about science, finds 79% of all US students draw scientists who are white and male and girls at age 6 draw female scientists 70% of the time, but 10 years later they draw male scientists 70% of the time.

The Letters to a Pre-Scientist pen pal program, or LPS, pairs fifth to tenth grade student “pre-scientists” in US low-income communities with STEM professional volunteers during science class. Each student is matched with a different STEM professional; many students get paired with someone who does not fit their stereotypical image of what a scientist looks like or does at work. The pair exchange eight letters during a school year and discuss higher education, STEM careers, and overcoming obstacles. Take a peek into a Letter Opening Party!

We believe every student deserves engaging, high-quality STEM experiences regardless of where they live, what they look like, or what’s happening in the world. We aim to broaden students’ awareness of what STEM professionals look like and do at work because we know students cannot aspire to careers they don’t know exist.

We prioritize being accessible to every student, including students behind in reading, students with special needs, and English Language Learners. Instead of one-time interactions during a field trip or video conference, we leverage a similar time commitment from our volunteers to facilitate meaningful relationships between STEM professionals and students. Throughout the year, STEM professionals transform from figures in textbooks and characters in movies into actual people students can aspire to emulate.

Students sitting at desks in a classroom excitedly hold up their letters.

Program Goals:

  1. Humanize STEM professionals
  2. Demystify STEM career pathways
  3. Broaden students’ awareness of who can become a STEM professional
  4. Inspire students’ curiosity about a future in STEM

Key Components of Our Model:

  • No opt-out approach: LPS recruits teachers who are excited for all of their students to participate in the pen pal program, regardless of their current interest level, reading ability, or language. Unlike many programs, LPS happens during the school day, which greatly decreases the barrier to entry for students.
  • One-on-one interaction: LPS facilitates individualized interactions rather than full-class activities or guest speakers. This allows for meaningful interactions with a role model over time.
  • Interest-based matching: We match students with scientists using student science and non-science interests to ensure students are connecting with someone with a career they are interested in so they are excited to learn more and ask questions. This approach could also serve to combat implicit biases, by pairing a male student with a female STEM professional, for example.
  • Strong teacher and STEM professional support: We provide comprehensive training and yearlong implementation support for teachers and STEM professionals. We provide substantial resources, such as prompts and templates for letter writing, to decrease the time it takes to participate but maintain a high-quality program.

Program Overview:

A year in the Letters to a Pre-Scientist program.

In July-August, STEM Professionals register to be pen pals! Prospective pen pals complete an online training to be eligible to be matched. We recruit talented teachers to host LPS. In September, it’s matching time! Using student and STEM professional surveys, Program Managers pair students in our LPS classrooms with a STEM pen pal. Students get to work writing their first letter to their pen pal! In the Fall, the back and forth begins! Student letters are delivered to STEM pen pals, who write a reply letter and send it back to their pre-scientist at school! In the Winter-Spring, the magic happens! STEM professionals and pre-scientists each write at least 3 more letters to each other during the rest of the school year – typically in Dec., Feb., and April.

Meet the 2020-21 LPS teachers and see where they teach!

Map showing the locations of the 2020-21 LPS classrooms.

20% of the classrooms are in rural areas, 40% are in urban areas, and 40% are in suburban areas.

Find out what past pre-scientists think of their LPS experience:

“I used to think science was all chemicals, but now I know science is nature, computers, the human body, and engineering and more.” – California fifth grader
“I used to think it isn’t common for a girl to become a scientist, but now I know anyone can become a scientist if you put your heart into it.” – Illinois sixth grader
“My favorite part about having a pen pal was being able to talk to someone who had similar interests and could answer my questions.” – California eighth grader
“Before writing to my pen pal, I thought scientists were Bill Nye the Science Guy. Now, after writing to my pen pal, I think scientists are making the world a better place.” – Illinois sixth grader
“I used to think that scientists were really smart people, but now I know that they are normal people just like me.” – California sixth grader