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Building a Community of Practice Among STEM Graduate Students to Foster Academic and Professional Success

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Future Career and Professional Success for Graduate Students

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.237.1 - 24.237.12



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Paper Authors


Renetta G. Tull University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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Renetta Garrison Tull is associate vice provost for graduate student development and postdoctoral affairs at UMBC and director of the National Science Foundation's PROMISE AGEP: Maryland Transformation, a new AGEP-T project for the University System of Maryland. She presents across the United States and Puerto Rico on topics ranging from graduate school recruitment, retention, and dissertation completion to faculty development. She serves as a national coach and mentor for prospective and current graduate students at universities outside of Maryland through invited participation at STEM conferences such as GEM, NSBE, SACNAS, SHPE, and AISES. She is a former board member of the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools and currently serves as a liaison for institutional collaboration in the chancellor’s office at the Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico. In addition to her affiliations in Maryland, she is a member of the "Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) Engineering Research Center faculty" at Carnegie Mellon/University of Pittsburgh, an MIT MSRP adviser, and a member of the MIT Deeper Engagement Working Group. She is co-PI of the NSF ADVANCE Hispanic Women in STEM Project, and co-leads the "Women in STEM" initiative for the Latin and Caribbean Consortium of Engineering Institutions (LACCEI).

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Miguel Alfonso Nino Virginia Polytechnic and State University Orcid 16x16

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Miguel A. Nino is a training, development, and e-learning professional. He earned his B.A. in international business from Lindenwood University, his M.A. in instructional systems development from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and currently is completing his Ph.D. in instructional design & technology with a certificate in learning sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. His research interests focus on informal and collaborative learning, professional development, STEM education, intercultural training, e-portfolios best practices, and training evaluation and measurement. He has had the opportunity to present his works and collaborations in these areas at regional, national, and international conferences.
In the field of e-learning and development, he has collaborated with organizations such as Johns Hopkins, Special Olympics, and the Graduate School at UMBC. Currently, he is one of the members of the Learning Transformation Research Group at Virginia Tech. In addition, Mr. Nino is a certified public translator, conference interpreter, and copywriter. In 2011, he founded Surplus Solutions, offering a wide variety of solutions to businesses, including technical translations and training facilitation. Contact information:

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Kimberly Monique Holmes George Mason University

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Kimberly Holmes is the director of retention and student success at George Mason University. She also served as a research analyst with the PROMISE Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She completed the higher education Ph.D. program at the University of Maryland, College Park, and earned her M.Ed. in higher education from the College of William & Mary and her B.A. in Latin American and Iberian studies from the University of Richmond. Her research interests include the experiences of women of color in STEM and expanding access to higher education for students of color and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

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Engineering graduate students will enter a competitive and ever-changing workforce, in whichnetworking and the need to build strong professional connections are mandatory for success.STEM graduate programs need to provide comprehensive career preparation, exposure to a widerange of career types, and networking opportunities. Our approach to professional developmentfor graduate students incorporates the positive impact of communities of practice, as amechanism of success. Through these communities, graduate students not only are exposed tolarger bodies of knowledge and skills, but they also have opportunities to expand professionalnetworks career options.Our National Science Foundation’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate(AGEP) in collaboration with our Graduate School have implemented centralized professionaldevelopment workshops to support graduate students’ academic and professional success. We’vedeveloped specific workshops to address career options, in response to the 2012 report by theCouncil of Graduate Schools (CGS), “Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers.”The CGS report and plans for our expanded graduate school sponsored career-focused activities,have been shared with graduate program directors, the Career Services Center, and thePresident's Council. We expose STEM graduate students to different kinds of careers, e.g., non-profit, government, and industry, and while maintaining a commitment to train future faculty fordifferent kinds of academic institutions. Our signature career seminars for graduate students areroundtable networking sessions, in which participants have the opportunity to interact withdiverse professionals with advanced degrees, from a variety of sectors. These roundtables havebeen held at the university for a broad audience of graduate students, and at AGEP summerconferences. The AGEP conferences, in particular, draw large audiences of underrepresentedminority graduate students. Both the university-based sessions, and the AGEP sessions includeseveral women and URM professionals as “Roundtable Mentors.”This paper utilizes data from these roundtables to identify the impact that this community ofpractice has had on the success and professional development of graduate students in STEMfields, related to exposure to career options and networking. Several of the engineering graduatestudents who attended these programs were in their first and second years of their academicprograms; therefore, the professional development workshops presented unique opportunities forexposure to career options and mentors at a critical time, early in their graduate studies.Survey instruments have been used to assess the learning outcomes and reactions of participantsto the information and content of each seminar or workshop. These surveys instruments havealso been designed to collect demographic information from participants – e.g. academicdepartment, gender, racial/ethnic background, and citizenship status. Using a Likert scalemeasure with 4 options, participants have the opportunity to rank the impact and relevance ofeach seminar for their professional and academic development. Based upon assessments fromroundtable session evaluations from 2012 and 2013, it is evident that graduate students inengineering benefitted from being part of a community of practice that prepares graduatestudents for careers, and fosters relationships with peers and professionals.

Tull, R. G., & Nino, M. A., & Holmes, K. M. (2014, June), Building a Community of Practice Among STEM Graduate Students to Foster Academic and Professional Success Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20128

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