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From the Undergraduate Student Perspective: The Role of Graduate Students in an Undergraduate Research Program

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

"Best" of BED

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.626.1 - 23.626.12

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Paper Authors

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Megan F. Campanile Illinois Institute of Technology

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Frederick Doe illinois institute of technology


Elana Rose Jacobs Illinois Institute of Technology

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Elana Jacobs is a first-year doctoral student in Science Education at the Illinois Institute of Technology. With an M.Ed. in Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a B.A. in Environmental Science from Hampshire College, she has over five years of experience working as a teacher in middle school science, math, and ESL in urban schools. In addition, she has extensive experience teaching science in museums and other informal learning environments. Her research interests include middle school science classrooms, how community college student navigate STEM majors, Research Experience for Undergraduate Programs.

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Norman G Lederman Illinois Institute of Technology

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Eric M Brey Illinois Institute of Technology

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The Role of Graduate Student Mentors on Undergraduate Experience in a Summer Engineering Research ProgramResearch experiences for undergraduates have increased in availability at universities andgovernment laboratories throughout the nation. Government agencies, universities and privatedonors support these activities with a variety of expectations, including providing a more skilledworkforce, creating a greater emphasis on graduate education and increased retention of studentsin highly technical fields. While the value of these programs has been well-established, there is apaucity of empirically-based research on the various models and practices of these experiencesand how they directly impact the undergraduate students. The focus of this study was a NationalScience Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program at a 4-yearcollege in the Midwest funded for over seven years. In a previous study, we found that theundergraduate students interacted more frequently with graduate student mentors than theirfaculty advisor while in the program. The purpose of this study was to examine more closely therole of the graduate student mentors and how they influenced the undergraduate studentexperience. Two data sources analyzed in this study were pre- and post-program surveys andsemi-structured interviews, both administered to the undergraduate students. Thirty-one codesemerged from the data (interviews and surveys) that described the role of the graduate studentmentors and were grouped into three main areas: 1) Academic Programs and Careers inengineering fields (9 codes), 2) engineering research Teaching and Learning (11 codes), and 3)Building Relationships in engineering work environments (10 codes). Content validity of theassessments were established by three independent educators and the codes emerged from thedata using the constant comparative method. Over the 10-week period, the undergraduatestudents reported spending an average of 38.4±8.4 hrs/week on their research project. Additionaltime was spent attending seminars on research ethics and graduate school and taking off-campustours to other research and clinical facilities organized by the program. The time spent in directinteractions with their faculty advisor was relatively low (3.8±3.8 hrs/week) compared to thegraduate student mentors (22.6±18.7 hrs/week). Depending on the student, there was a broadrange of interaction time spent with both the faculty advisors and graduate student mentors (2-40hrs/week). When examining the nature of these interactions, 75% of undergraduate studentsreported having influential experience with their graduate student mentors related to AcademicPrograms and Careers and 100% reported influential experiences related to Teaching andLearning and Building Relationships. In exploring Academic Programs and Careers further,many of the experiences (42%) were related directly to the undergraduates’ academic and careerpaths. The other two categories of experiences were related to exposure to graduate school (28%)and laboratory careers (30%). Related to Teaching and Learning, undergraduate studentsdescribed various methods and strategies (i.e., demonstration, questioning, and discussion) thegraduate students used to teach them about their research project (50%). The undergraduatestudents also described what they learned about research design and performingtechniques/protocols from the graduate student mentors (39%); and, how the graduate studentmentor reviewed and critiqued their written work and prepared them to effectively communicatetheir research findings (11%). In regards to Building Relationships, the graduate students weredescribed as mentors (53%), collaborators (32%), and supervisors (15%). In conclusion, thisresearch provides insight into the role of graduate student mentors have in an REU program andhow they directly influence undergraduate students experiences with engineering research,graduate school and careers while in the program.

Campanile, M. F., & Doe, F., & Jacobs, E. R., & Lederman, N. G., & Brey, E. M. (2013, June), From the Undergraduate Student Perspective: The Role of Graduate Students in an Undergraduate Research Program Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015