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An Exploratory Study of the Research Mentor Experience in a Novel Undergraduate Aerospace Engineering Course

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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

23.170.1 - 23.170.12



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Paper Authors


Irene B Mena Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Irene B. Mena has a B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Engineering Education.
Her research interests include first-year engineering and graduate student professional development.

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Sven Schmitz Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Dr. Sven Schmitz joined the faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Penn State University in 2010. He received a diploma degree in Aerospace Engineering from RWTH Aachen (Germany) in 2002 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering from the University of California Davis in 2006. Dr. Schmitz spent four years as a post-doctoral researcher and project scientist at Davis before coming to Penn State. He is an expert in rotary wing aerodynamics with an emphasis on vortical flows. His research program embraces the areas of wind turbine aerodynamics and rotorcraft aeromechanics. Current activities include wind farm wake modeling, icing on wind turbines, rotor hub flows, and rotor active control.

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An Exploratory Study of the Research Mentor Experience in a Novel Undergraduate Aerospace Engineering CourseThis study looks at the experiences of seven graduate/postdoctoral research mentors in a novelaerospace engineering course that introduced undergraduate students to research at a mid-Atlantic research University. In this course, groups of (typically) three undergraduate studentswere mentored by one graduate student. The undergraduate students worked with and were ledby these research mentors in various aerospace engineering research projects. In many cases, theundergraduate students were working on a project related to the research mentors’ theses orresearch work. Previous studies looking at the undergraduate research experience do so from theundergraduate students’ perspectives; this paper focuses on this experience from the researchmentors’ perspectives. In this paper, the experiences of seven research mentors who wereinvolved with the course in the fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters are described. The paperanswers the following research questions: (1) What benefits result from being a research mentor?and (2) In what ways does being a research mentor prepare graduate students for their futurecareers?Data were collected via individual interviews with the research mentors at the end of eachsemester. Using situated learning as the theoretical framework, the data was analyzed todetermine themes that characterized the research mentor experience. The theory of situatedlearning was used to identify and inform the ways in which being research mentors can preparethe mentors for their future careers, specifically in terms of how they are prepared to becomemembers of the communities of practice they aspire to join. The benefits for research mentorswere classified as follows: (1) benefits related to preparation for their future careers, such asstrengthening their technical skills and content knowledge, and developing and improvingvarious professional skills, and (2) benefits related to their current positions asstudents/postdoctoral scholars, such as receiving help with their theses or research projects.This study is part of a longer-term study to determine the effectiveness of this aerospaceengineering course, both in terms of the undergraduate students’ learning experiences, and interms of the graduate students’ professional development. The results shared in this paper can beuseful to universities, departments, and faculty members who: (1) are interested in graduatestudent professional development, and (2) would like to learn about a novel way to involvegraduate students in undergraduate courses.

Mena, I. B., & Schmitz, S. (2013, June), An Exploratory Study of the Research Mentor Experience in a Novel Undergraduate Aerospace Engineering Course Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19184

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