New Orleans, Louisiana
February 20, 2022
February 20, 2022
July 20, 2022
Diversity and CoNECD Paper Sessions
The COVID-19 pandemic was a disruptive force that continues to impact the lives of our entire global society as we modify how we interact within our communities, families, and in educational settings. This once-in-a-generation phenomenon prompted a rapid shift to online learning which had the widespread effect of disrupting academic trajectories and contributing to feelings of isolation for many individuals. While it’s too early to determine the impact COVID-19 has had on educational settings for underserved and marginalized communities in STEM, there is emerging evidence that the disruptive force of this global phenomenon has had a larger effect for women (Cardel et al., 2020) and communities of color (Weissman, 2020). STEM education graduate students during this time reside within a complex system of tensions such as pursuing their doctoral research and collecting data impacted by COVID-19, completing course requirements for classes that have shifted in modality, and preparing for an uncertain job market with widespread hiring freezes. Overlay these tensions with existing research that has documented high levels of stress and mental health impacts for graduate students in STEM (Evans, et al., 2019; Hyun, et al., 2006), and the status quo is untenable and problematic. As such, as a field we face an immediate need to share and document ways to support and empower graduate students at this critical stage of their academic journey.
In this manuscript, we highlight the novel structures and tools that helped foster a supportive mentoring space for a community of STEM education researchers. Drawing on an introspective case study approach using autoethnography (Ellis et al., 2011), we discuss how a group of eight STEM education researchers (two faculty, and six graduate students) were able to foster a community of practice (Wenger, 2010) during the global pandemic. Specifically, we highlight three structures that were implemented to support community engagement: weekly co-planned research group meetings using the Zoom conferencing platform, an asynchronous reading group using Perusall as a platform for collaborative engagement, and weekly or bi-weekly paired progress meetings using Zoom. In addition to these structures we also highlight how we formed a shared sense of community and identity through collectively “naming” our space. For each of these activities we discuss the affordances and limitations provided by the structures and tools being leveraged.
The research group meetings were co-planned by the two faculty members but allowed for real-time adaptive support during the synchronous meetings. The meetings included a series of emotional and personal check-ins to promote mental health and well-being, announcement of milestones, and synchronous discussion of shared readings or professional development activities. The series of optional emotional and personal check-ins were especially impactful to start the meetings as they allowed for space for individuals to have their personhood affirmed and discuss challenges they faced and accomplishments they achieved. Example activities included: sharing a drawing of your academic journey, creating a meme that captured your emotions, choosing a board game that reflected your attitudes toward the week, writing a poem, or making a list of self-care activities to accomplish. These activities allowed for individuals to process where they were emotionally and were also professional development activities for STEM education researchers to be attuned to the emotional and personal health of research participants.
The asynchronous collaborative reading annotations were facilitated through the online mark-up and reading technology, Perusall. The asynchronous and collaborative nature of this tool allowed the faculty planners to understand what resonated with students, promoted conversations between students online, and allowed for monitoring of professional growth and engagement. This was especially important as we view learning as a social endeavor and the impacts of COVID-19 necessitated finding various ways to promote interaction with scholarship, an activity that can often feel isolating and unstructured. Allowing for comments from both faculty and graduate students around the same article allowed individuals to explore their own interests, ask questions, and help reduce imposter syndrome to make visible concepts that many of us were working to understand. The paired progress meetings provided a targeted space to support individual students’ needs and discuss issues that arose during the pandemic. These helped foster more intimate spaces that could provide tailored feedback and support for the particular time on the academic journey of the student (e.g., pre-qualifying exam, proposal defense, data collection). These meetings also featured a holistic development plan where both the student and faculty evaluated progress towards independence as a STEM education researcher.
One of the culminating activities of fostering this mentoring space was to collaboratively name the space. Naming holds significance in helping shape a collective identity (Fox, 2011; Moscovici & Duvenn, 2000) and communicating the values and beliefs of the named space (Gatson, 2011). This process of naming occurred first by identifying keywords that we believed described the values and interests of the members of the space and then working to combine and brand these with imbued symbolism. We named our space the “Transforming Identity, Diversity, and Equity in STEM (TIDES) Research and Mentoring Collaborative.” The symbolism of a tide was captivating as it communicated the need for a “tidal wave” to change the culture within STEM education. Furthermore, the idea of the ebb and flow of “tides” helped highlight that we are impacted by forces we cannot control, but together, we can weather the storm and support each other. In this presentation, we will discuss the broader context in which this community developed and provide design implications for building supportive mentoring spaces.
Voigt, M., & Gallagher, E., & Lanning, R., & Nguyen, T., & Bufford, S. M., & Sullivan, T. J., & Ransom, T., & Austin, W. (2022, February), Fostering a Supportive Mentoring Space During a Global Pandemic Paper presented at 2022 CoNECD (Collaborative Network for Engineering & Computing Diversity) , New Orleans, Louisiana. https://peer.asee.org/39120
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