Asee peer logo

Am I a Boss or a Coach? Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates in Research

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Graduate Student Experience

Tagged Divisions

Graduate Studies and Student

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.146.1 - 23.146.20



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Janet Y Tsai University of Colorado at Boulder Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Janet Y. Tsai is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, whose work examines and develops initiatives to encourage more students, especially women, into the field of engineering. Currently, Tsai's research focuses on understanding the dynamics of how status and prestige are constructed among novice engineers.

visit author page


Daria A Kotys-Schwartz University of Colorado Boulder

visit author page

Dr. Daria Kotys-Schwartz is the Design Center Colorado Co-Director and an Instructor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She received B.S. and M.S degrees in mechanical engineering 
from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Dr. Kotys-Schwartz has focused her research in engineering student learning, retention, and student identity development within the context of engineering design. She is currently investigating the impact of a four-year hands-on design curriculum in engineering, a holistic approach to student retention, the effects of service learning in engineering education, and informal learning in engineering.

visit author page


Beverly Louie University of Colorado, Boulder

visit author page

Dr. Beverly Louie is the director for teaching and learning initiatives in the Broadening Opportunities through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center in CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. She holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from CU, and a D.Phil. in mechanical engineering from the University of Oxford, England. Dr. Louie’s research interests are in the areas of engineering student retention and performance, teaching effectiveness and collaborative learning.

visit author page

author page

Virginia Lea Ferguson Mechanical Engineering; University of Colorado; Boulder, CO


Alyssa Nicole Berg University of Colorado Boulder

visit author page

Alyssa is a master's student with an emphasis in energy and environment.

visit author page

Download Paper |


What’s in it for me? Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates in ResearchEngineering colleges and universities are embracing mentoring programs as one strategy toimprove retention and persistence of their diverse undergraduate populations. A one-on-onementoring relationship provides individualized support for mentees, and a sense that a realperson actually cares about the mentee’s progress and development within their chosenengineering degree track. A mentoring program in which graduate students are paired with 1st or2nd year undergraduate engineering students to conduct research is now entering its third year ofoperation at a large public university. The undergraduate mentees benefit from exposure to aresearch community and the process of doing real cutting-edge engineering research, while thegraduate student mentors benefit from the experience of being a mentor, defining a project andguiding a novice engineer through the ups and downs of doing research. Participatingundergraduates enroll in a one-credit course which includes a weekly seminar on thefundamentals of research, like keeping a lab book and developing a hypothesis, as well asmultiple panels of graduate students and industry representatives to offer a broad taste of theopportunities available to do engineering research following graduation. Undergraduates areexpected to work in the research lab under the direction of their graduate mentor several hours aweek, and must develop and present a poster explaining their research during a celebratoryposter session at the close of the semester and culmination of the program.During their participation in the mentoring program, undergraduates are assessed via pre- andpost- surveys to gauge several dimensions of their engineering identity and confidence.Additionally, undergraduates respond to biweekly reflective questions to give researchers aqualitative flavor of their experiences in the mentoring program. Graduate mentors similarlyrespond to several reflective questions about their experiences during their participation in theprogram and complete pre- and post- assessments.This paper presents data collected from graduate student mentors during the first two years ofprogram implementation. Graduate student responses have been examined to understand theimpact of certain mentor training and individual mentor characteristics in establishing fruitfulmentoring relationships. Initial findings indicate two salient mentoring models that describe howgraduate students actively mentor undergraduate researchers: supervision vs. coaching. In thesupervisory model, the graduate mentor sets up a hierarchical boss/subordinate relationship withtheir undergraduate mentee, while in the coaching model the graduate mentor and undergraduatementee work together in collaborative partnership. Mentoring program directors and mentorseverywhere can benefit from the experiences of these graduate mentors, as researchers look todevelop better training materials and improve program structures to ensure positive researchexperiences for all future program participants.Keywords: Mentoring, Models of Mentoring, Undergraduate Research

Tsai, J. Y., & Kotys-Schwartz, D. A., & Louie, B., & Ferguson, V. L., & Berg, A. N. (2013, June), Am I a Boss or a Coach? Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduates in Research Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19160

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015