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Board # 130 : Using a research center-based mentoring program to increase the participation of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans in engineering

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research

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Dr. Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez is the director of a mentoring program based at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK CAER) – and funded by the Broadening Participation in Engineering program of the National Science Foundation – designed to increase the number of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans graduating with engineering degrees and pursuing academic careers. Originally from Mexico, Dr. Santillan-Jimenez joined UK first as an undergraduate research intern and then as a graduate student performing his doctoral research at UK CAER and at the University of Alicante (Spain). After obtaining his Ph.D. in 2008, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Utrecht University (The Netherlands) prior to retuning to UK CAER, where he now holds the position of Principal Research Scientist. His current research focuses on the application of heterogeneous catalysis to the production of renewable fuels and chemicals, with emphasis on the upgrading of algae oil to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels. His synergistic activities include participating in a number of K-20 educational initiatives designed to increase and broaden participation in STEM fields.

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William Henderson III University of Kentucky

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Mr. William Henderson III is the co-director of the mentoring program as well as the Director for Diversity Programs and Diversity/Out-of State recruitment for the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Engineering. Originally from Lexington, Kentucky, William obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Math Education and Secondary Math Education, respectively, from UK. He has performed a number of functions at UK including: grant writing, strategic planning for the university in general and for diversity in particular, coordinating student affairs, advising, and outreach programming.

William currently creates and conducts programming for K-12 and post-secondary Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives. He is the founder and director of the UeducateU Career Advisory Council. It serves as a think-tank designed to improving diversity in STEM fields by connecting corporations, educators, stakeholders and students while solving issues related to becoming more involved with prominent careers.

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Given that a diverse workforce is considered crucial to the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the fact that several groups are woefully underrepresented in these fields is of great concern. Mentoring has been identified as an effective tool not only for attracting and retaining students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM disciplines, but also for improving their academic performance. Unfortunately, although some studies on the mentoring of minority students in engineering have been performed and their results have been published, many questions in this area remain unanswered. For instance, the literature on the subject is silent regarding whether any potential benefits could be obtained by housing mentoring initiatives in research centers as opposed to following the traditional option of basing these programs in traditional engineering departments. In fact, this lack of knowledge evinces a missed opportunity, since research centers commonly display several characteristics that could render them an excellent environment for mentoring efforts designed to increase minority participation in engineering. Indeed, research centers typically count with research portfolios focused on topical problems or subjects instead of closely tracking specific disciplines; moreover, research centers commonly display higher research staff-to-student ratios, in addition to the fact that their staff does not experience the role strain caused by the teaching and administrative load of faculty, all conditions which can result in a more engaging, immersive and personalized mentoring experience.

Notably, a mentoring initiative based at a research center – and funded by the Broadening Participation in Engineering program of the National Science Foundation – is currently striving to accomplish three main goals: 1) to motivate African American, Hispanic and Native American students to study engineering and help them graduate with engineering degrees; 2) to help these students acquire the skills they need to become engineering professionals, academics, leaders and role models; and 3) to investigate if mentoring in research centers offers advantages over mentoring in traditional engineering departments. In effect, this mentoring initiative is attempting to fill the aforementioned knowledge gap, and do so by being mindful of and contending to avoid the shortcomings afflicting previous mentoring studies. To that end, both cross-sectional and longitudinal components have been integrated in a quasi-experimental approach including multiple controls. Furthermore, both objective (e.g., GPAs and retention rates) and subjective (e.g., feelings of integration to the university environment and opinions on the importance of having a mentor of the same race and/or gender) data are being acquired, monitored and evaluated in and attempt to assess the effectiveness of this initiative and understand the lived experience of participating students.

Santillan-Jimenez, E., & Henderson, W. (2017, June), Board # 130 : Using a research center-based mentoring program to increase the participation of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans in engineering Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--27731

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