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Graduate Student Perceptions of an Ideal Mentor in Engineering and Computing at a Minority-Serving Institution: Preliminary Results

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Graduate Studies Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Paper Authors


Luis Enrique Guardia Florida International University

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Luis Enrique Guardia is a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering student and Graduate Assistant in the School of Universal Computing Construction and Engineering Education (SUCCEED) at Florida International University (FIU). Luis also holds a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from FIU and is particularly interested in the intersect between medicine, engineering, and learning. His research interests include empathic teaching and learning, mentorship relationships, and improving stakeholder considerations in students.

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Mais Kayyali Florida International University

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Mais Kayyali is the Associate Director of Academic Support Services in the Office of the Dean at Florida International University’s (FIU) College of Engineering and Computing (CEC). In her current role, she oversees all aspects of Graduate Education and Admissions for the schools and departments under CEC. Her duties vary from admissions, recruitment, marketing, data analysis, graduate funding, etc. She also provides administrative support to the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Prior to her current position, she was the Program Coordinator/Coordinator of Administrative Services at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and prior to that the Program Assistant at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at the college. Mais holds a Bachelor’s degree in Finance, Master’s degree in Hospitality Management, and currently a doctoral student in the Engineering and Computing Education program at FIU. Her research interests are in graduate and postdoctoral education with a focus on mentorship and transitions as well as faculty development and the use of technology in engineering and computing education.

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Alexandra Coso Strong Florida International University Orcid 16x16

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As an assistant professor of engineering education at Florida International University, Dr. Alexandra Coso Strong works and teaches at the intersection of engineering education, faculty development, and complex systems design. Alexandra completed her doctorate in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. Prior to attending Georgia Tech, Alexandra received a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from MIT and a master’s degree in systems engineering from the University of Virginia. Alexandra comes to FIU after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Georgia Tech’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL) and three years as a faculty member at Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. Alexandra’s research aims to amplify the voices and work of students, educators, and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) overall and support continued educational innovation within engineering at these institutions. Specifically, she focuses on (1) educational and professional development of graduate students and faculty, (2) critical transitions in education and career pathways, and (3) design as central to educational and global change.

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Experiences of underrepresented students within Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, & Medicine (STEMM) disciplines are impacted by structural and cultural challenges around marginalization, discrimination, tokenism, isolation and imposter syndrome. Reports from the National Academies and Council of Graduate Schools suggest high quality mentorship can enhance recruitment and retention of underrepresented students and provide these students with reciprocal and lasting relationships thus reducing these discerned challenges. Mentoring however, is a derived concept, and is often left up to the interpretation of mentors and mentees. Without a guiding structure and clear definitions, the concept of what a mentor should do has become ambiguous. In the context of graduate education, mentorship is not well-defined or supported as few programs and institutions have established formal or informal mentorship structures, beyond the advisor. The aim of this study is to examine the mentorship experiences of underrepresented graduate students in engineering and computing and understand differing perceived definitions of mentorship.

The greatest limitation in performing an in-depth exploration into underrepresented graduate students’ experiences with mentoring in such contexts is categorization. Categorization (e.g. academic, discipline, and social) decreases the significance of individual experiences, and groups them with standards that are not specific to their culture. This study employs the use of Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) framework to explore the perceptions, pathways, and impact of mentoring on engineering and computing graduate students at a top U.S. research and Minority Serving Institution (MSI). CCW is an asset-based model of human and cultural resources which considers the cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts of marginalized groups that typically go unrecognized, ignored or unsung due to the use of standard categorization criteria.

This exploratory study will utilize both quantitative and qualitative measures to examine mentorship experiences between graduate students and their faculty mentors. First, a survey will be administered to active and enrolled doctoral and master’s thesis students to define the characteristics of their ideal mentor using the Ideal Mentor Scale and to better understand potential capitals experienced. The survey will also seek to understand the pathway of students’ established mentoring relationships and perceived impacts. Second, using inclusion criteria ingrained in the survey questionnaire, we will specifically examine the experiences of those students who identify as underrepresented. Using their survey responses, we will recruit faculty who students identify as mentors for interviews. The interview will focus on identifying how this mentoring relationship was formed, their perceived responsibilities as a mentor, and who they mentor. The purpose of this work-in-progress will be to discuss the details of the methodology and share preliminary results of the study. The results will provide practical implications for graduate programs as they aspire to implement mentoring programs to recruit and retain underrepresented graduate students as well as improve students’ experiences and academic outcomes. Overall, by enhancing mentoring in graduate education, programs can increase student diversity, develop student interest, and improve support in graduate education with the focus on preparing them as they transition into the workforce, whether it be as professionals in industry or faculty in academia.

Guardia, L. E., & Kayyali, M., & Strong, A. C. (2021, July), Graduate Student Perceptions of an Ideal Mentor in Engineering and Computing at a Minority-Serving Institution: Preliminary Results Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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