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Exploring the Relationship Between Culture and Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Graduate Students’ Mental Health (Full Paper)

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Graduate Studies Division Technical Session 4

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Paper Authors


Sarah Bork University of Michigan

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Sarah Jane (SJ) Bork received her B.S. and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Ohio State University in 2017, and her M.S. in Engineering Education Research from the University of Michigan in 2020. As a doctoral candidate in Engineering Education Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, SJ is studying the mental health experiences of engineering graduate students.

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Joi-lynn Mondisa University of Michigan

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Joi Mondisa, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Industrial & Operations Engineering Department and an Engineering Education Faculty Member at the University of Michigan. She earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Education and an M.S. degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University; an M.B.A. degree from Governors State University; and a B.S. degree in General Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to her graduate studies, she worked as a professional in the areas of manufacturing, operations, technical sales, and publishing for ten years. She also served as an adjunct faculty in the Engineering Technology Program at Triton College in River Grove, IL for seven years.

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Nicholas Young University of Michigan

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In this paper, we explore the mental health of science, engineering, and math (SEM) graduate students using quantitative analysis on the survey data provided by the Healthy Minds Network (HMN): Research on Adolescent and Young Adult Mental Health group, coined the Healthy Minds Study (HMS). The aim of the study is to answer the following research questions: (1) How has the mental health of SEM graduate students, measured by depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and flourishing, changed over the past three academic years?

(2) What role, if any, does the climate of SEM programs, measured by the proxies of campus environment, encouraging dialogue, prioritizing mental health, and receptive administration, have on SEM graduate students’ self-reported mental health measures of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and flourishing, when accounting for students’ gender, race, international student status, degree, and discipline? Attention to the mental health of students in higher education has grown in recent years. Prior work has shown that several factors can influence an individuals’ mental health, including, but not limited to, a students’ demographics, social factors, available resources, values, motivation, and more. The purpose of this study, however, is to focus specifically on how the culture of SEM programs influences SEM graduate students’ mental health. In this context, mental health refers to one’s mental and emotional well-being. Therefore, this paper will leverage previous work that has indicated the role of academic disciplines’ cultures on mental health.

SEM graduate students are of interest because they are understudied in the literature despite being more likely to report mental health problems. In addition, graduate students have a variety of academic and personal experiences that are different from undergraduate students due to their roles as students, instructors, and researchers, resulting in a different acculturation process. In addition, this process can impact students of diverse backgrounds inequitably, with minoritized students facing more negative mental health consequences and feeling like they are less supported than their non-marginalized peers. This study explored measures of program climate to assess how students’ perceptions of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts impact SEM students’ self-reported mental health.

In this work, we performed a quantitative analysis on the Health Minds Network (HMN) data on SEM graduate students. We calculated bivariate statistics and developed regression models for each of the four outcome measures while accounting for relevant demographic measures. We first show that there have been changes in students’ self-reported mental health, with the general trend of increasing mental health problems. In terms of program climate, our regressions found that students’ beliefs about the climate had a statistically significant influence over their reported mental health measures, and that these experiences varied for different demographic groups.

The results from our work highlight areas of focus for future research. Furthermore, this work can help enable SEM graduate students, faculty, and staff to reflect on the changes in the past years and to use these results to promote change at individual, program, and systematic levels to improve SEM graduate students’ mental health.

Bork, S., & Mondisa, J., & Young, N. (2022, August), Exploring the Relationship Between Culture and Science, Engineering, and Mathematics Graduate Students’ Mental Health (Full Paper) Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41183

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