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Examining how Graduate Advisors in STEM Support Mental Health among Black and Latinx Graduate Women

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2024 Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity (CoNECD)


Arlington, Virginia

Publication Date

February 25, 2024

Start Date

February 25, 2024

End Date

February 27, 2024

Conference Session

Track 1: Technical Session 3: Examining how Graduate Advisors in STEM Support Mental Health among Black and Latinx Graduate Women

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Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions

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Kerrie Wilkins-Yel University of Massachusetts Boston

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Kerrie Wilkins-Yel, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of Radical Investment in Strategic Solutions towards Equity (RISSE) Consulting LLC and an Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is an NSF Early CAREER award recipient whose research broadly focuses on advancing equity, access, and wellness in STEM.

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Stephanie Marando-Blanck University of Massachusetts

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Pavneet Kaur Bharaj California State University, Bakersfield

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Aisha Farra

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"I am very lucky to have an advisor who advocates for my mental health": Examining how Graduate Advisors Support Mental Health among Black and Latina Graduate Women in STEM

It is well known that women of color navigate an onslaught of difference in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. These marginalizing experiences are characterized by alienating program environments rife with gendered-racism, invisibility, isolation, and the frequent need to prove one’s legitimacy in STEM (Alexander & Hermann, 2016; Johnson, 2011; Wilkins-Yel et al., 2019). A burgeoning area of research has highlighted how these experiences of difference have negatively impacted Women of Color’s mental health and, in turn, their persistence in STEM (Evans et al., 2018; Wilkins-Yel et al., 2022a). One group uniquely positioned to create systemic change in these dominant white masculine milieus is graduate advisors. Advisors are stewards of the STEM climate across laboratories, classrooms, and their broader departments. Yet, graduate students broadly, as well as Women of Color graduate students more specifically, describe rarely discussing mental health with their STEM graduate advisors (Mousavi et al., 2018; Wilkins-Yel, et al 2022a; Wilkins-Yel, et al, 2022b). To date, there is a dearth in research examining how systemic agents, such as STEM graduate advisors, support graduate Women of Color’s mental health.

To address this gap, the current study adopted an asset-based lens to understand the tangible ways in which STEM graduate advisors supported the mental health of Black and Latina graduate women in STEM. The current study comprised of 20 Latina/e and 14 Black graduate women students. Participants were enrolled in an array of STEM disciplines including Engineering, Computer Science, Chemistry, and Physics. Using an online Qualtrics survey, participants provided open-ended responses to the following question, “In what ways has support from your advisor impacted your mental health and wellbeing over the past academic year, if at all?”. Preliminary results indicated that graduate advisors actively created space in lab meetings and individual advisee meetings to discuss students’ mental health, paid students equitably, provided students with time off during personal challenges, encouraged students to take breaks, and took explicit action against injustices. A detailed discussion of these findings as well as tangible takeaways will be shared during the presentation.

Wilkins-Yel, K., & Marando-Blanck, S., & Bharaj, P. K., & Farra, A. (2024, February), Examining how Graduate Advisors in STEM Support Mental Health among Black and Latinx Graduate Women Paper presented at 2024 Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity (CoNECD), Arlington, Virginia. 10.18260/1-2--45449

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