supporting Cambridge public school students

Draper KeyPals Introduce K-Lo Students to Engineering


Draper KeyPal Drew Crete has mentored many students.


Ask any of the 17 fifth and sixth graders matched with a Draper Laboratory employee in the Kennedy-Longfellow KeyPal program, and they’ll probably tell you that the “Hands-on Engineering Design Challenge” is the most favorite part of their yearlong mentoring experience. Students spend both semesters corresponding via e-mail with their corporate KeyPals, but the December workplace visit–when student and mentor collaborate to see who can construct the tallest free-standing structure using index cards, masking tape and scissors–beats it all!

With an eye toward building literacy and career awareness, Draper’s KeyPals program is now in its 18th year. The company is a not-for-profit research and development organization that deals with technology solutions to problems in security, space exploration, health care and energy. In collaboration with IBM and MIT, the program focuses heavily on student writing: interviews and biographies of each KeyPal volunteer, book reviews, and computer technology (e-mails, PowerPoint creation). In total, all 58 fifth and sixth graders at Kennedy-Longfellow get a mentor. Draper volunteers gently guide each weekly e-mail exchange, encouraging students to think about their writing and the editing process.

Four face-to-face visits take place during the year as well: two at the workplace and two additional times for breakfast (at the Kennedy-Longfellow, with parents also invited) and lunch (at MIT). Most of Draper’s KeyPals are engineers, but many are in the financial and administrative sectors. According to Ellen Avery, site coordinator for Draper, the connection between student and KeyPal is a fun, engaging way to help build student confidence. Students seem to thrive with their KeyPal partners. As one student so aptly said, “Now I know what I can do with my math”.

In addition to hosting students at their site for the design challenge, Draper also publishes the annual full-color KeyPal biography booklet that spotlights each corporate KeyPal. The bound booklet is a prized possession that each student receives at the special KeyPal luncheon each spring. The luncheon also allows time for students to share their writing projects with their corporate mentors on laptops provided by the School Department.

CSV thanks its KeyPal corporate partners and volunteers for their caring and commitment to the students of Cambridge! Please join us for the March 15 CSV Now! event honoring KeyPal Program Partners, Draper Laboratory, IBM and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For more information and to register, go to: