With e-mentoring, instead of getting together with someone in person, say, once a week, you meet electronically. Many companies participate in about 70 e-mentoring programs, says the National Mentoring Partnership (mentoring.org) in Alexandria, Va. If your employer doesn't have such an arrangement, you can hook up with a program on your own.
The approaches vary. Career advice is the mission of icouldbe.org. You fill out a personal profile on a Web page; students who want to find out more about what you do contact you with questions. The 10-year-old Electronic Emissary Project (emissary.ots.utexas.edu) asks mentors to indicate an area of expertise. Then, when teachers and students need help with a classroom project, they contact an expert. The relationship may last from a few weeks to three years. Cyber-Sisters.org, based in Eugene, Ore., matches middle-school girls with women professionals. Each pair works together for eight weeks on a science or technology project. Although most of their contact is via e-mail, many teams meet in the beginning and make a joint presentation at the end.
Because privacy and security are important, communications usually go through to a central site, where a staff member monitors messages or filtering software looks for telltale inappropriate phrases or words. Generally, you can't exchange last names or addresses. You also can expect each site to run a criminal background check when you sign up.
Most programs require you to respond within 48 hours of receiving an e-mail and to send at least one message a week to your mentee. "Kids will see you're really interested, and that encourages them," says Rogers. And that, after all, is what mentoring is all about. By Anne Field