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Broadening Participation in Engineering through a Research Center-based Mentoring Program (Research)

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

Minorities in Engineering Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Eduardo Santillan-Jimenez University of Kentucky

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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 waste and algae oils to drop-in hydrocarbon fuels. His synergistic activities include leading and participating in a number of K-20 educational initiatives designed to increase and broaden participation in STEM fields.

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Sarah Hodges University of Kentucky Orcid 16x16

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Sarah Hodges, is a senior in the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky. She is originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, is a University Patterson Scholar and a student in the Lewis Honors College. Since 2016 Sarah has conducted research at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER). Initially, she worked under the mentorship of Dr. Bob Jewell and Dr. Tristana Duvallet in the Environmental and Coal Technologies group at UK CAER, where her work focused on the piezoelectric effects of Ettringite in CSA cement and the effect on the formation of Ettringite in CSA cement of different solutions. Sarah joined the Biofuels and Environmental Catalysis Group in 2017 under Dr. Mark Crocker and Dr. Eduardo Santillan-Jiminez, where her work was one of UK CAER’s first collaborative projects with the University of Grenoble Alps Pagora Engineering School of Pulp and Paper processing. Focusing on the thermochemical degradation process of cellulosic biomass during conversion to bio-oil, Sarah traveled to Grenoble, France for three months to begin her research and has since continued the project at UKCAER. In her time at UK CAER Sarah has been awarded a UK Summer Research Grant, a Kentucky Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, Research Scholars Program (EPSCoR RSP) Grant, and a National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF iREU. In addition, she was awarded a Midwest Coal Ash Association Research Stipend and was the youngest person to ever win an American Coal Ash Association Educational Foundation Scholarship in 2017. Sarah is also a member of UK’s student chapters of NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), SWE (Society of Women Engineers), SHPE (Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers), SPORES (Student Participating in Outreach through Research in Engineering and the Sciences) and the Energy Club and has regularly volunteered with NERD SQUAD (a Lexington STEM Education non-profit foundation) since 2015.

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Alejandro Gerardo Villasante-Tezanos University of Kentucky

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Alejandro Villasante-Tezanos is Data Management Specialist Sr. for the department of Statistics at the University of Kentucky.
He completed his Ms in Statistics in 2015 and he is finishing his Phd focusing in high dimensional multivariate analysis.

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Robert Theakston MS

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In the fall of 2015, a mentoring initiative was established at the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research – with funding from the Broadening Participation in Engineering program of the National Science Foundation – in order to accomplish two main goals. First, to motivate African American, Hispanic and Native American students to study engineering and help them graduate with engineering degrees; and secondly, to help these students acquire the skills they need to become engineering professionals, academics, leaders and role models. However, this effort has also strived to answer an important research question, namely, whether mentoring in research centers offers advantages over mentoring in traditional engineering departments, an issue that has not been addressed to date by other authors in the literature. Indeed, while mentoring has been identified as an effective tool for attracting, retaining, and improving the academic performance of students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM disciplines – and some studies on the mentoring of minority students in engineering have been performed and published – many questions in this area remain unanswered, including the research question above. This represents an important gap in the knowledge base, particularly since research centers commonly display a number of characteristics that could render them a favorable environment for mentoring efforts focused on broadening participation in engineering. Foremost among these characteristics is the fact that research centers commonly display higher research staff-to-student ratios; in addition, research center staff does not experience the role strain caused by the teaching and administrative load of faculty, these being conditions that can result in a more engaging, immersive and personalized mentoring experience. Notably, this mentoring initiative is not only attempting to fill the aforementioned knowledge gap, but has strived to do so by addressing the shortcomings displayed by previous mentoring studies. The latter include the fact that most studies performed to date have limited data collection to a single point in time and displayed a pre- and post-design, while a lack of control groups has also affected their internal validity. Against this backdrop, the present study has integrated both cross-sectional and longitudinal components 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 have been 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., & Hodges, S., & Villasante-Tezanos, A. G., & Theakston, R. (2019, June), Broadening Participation in Engineering through a Research Center-based Mentoring Program (Research) Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32480

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