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Graduate Students: Influential Agents of Social Capital for Engineering Undergraduate Researchers

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Educational Research and Methods Poster Session

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.679.1 - 25.679.14



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Paper Authors


Julie P. Martin Clemson University

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Julie P. Martin, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of engineering and science education with a joint appointment in the School of Materials Science and Engineering. Her research interests focus on social factors affecting the recruitment, retention, and career development of under-represented students in engineering. Trenor is a recent NSF CAREER award winner for her research entitled “Influence of Social Capital on Under-represented Engineering Students Academic and Career Decisions.”

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Matthew K. Miller Clemson University

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Matthew K. Miller is a Ph.D. student and Graduate Research Assistant in the Engineering & Science Education Department at Clemson University and is also Public Relations Chair of the Graduate Engineering Education Consortium for Students. Miller received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in industrial engineering from Clemson University in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

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Marian S. Kennedy Clemson University

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Marian Kennedy, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University.

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Graduate Students: Influential Agents of Social Capital for Engineering Undergraduate ResearchersAs the United States seeks to expand and diversify its scientific workforce, undergraduateresearch experiences have been identified as one potential mechanism for attracting and retainingstudents into graduate-level work and subsequent research careers. The National ScienceFoundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program is one of the largestinitiatives supporting active research participation by undergraduate students in all of the areas ofresearch funded by NSF. The REU program to date has funded over 1,700 sites totaling over$435 million (of which over 600 sites receiving $171 million in funding are presently active).From these active awards, 226 are related to engineering and account for 37% of awards to date(in terms of number and funding amount). Despite such widespread support and belief in thevalue of undergraduate research to improve education, there is limited knowledge about howthese (and other) research experiences have on undergraduates’ decisions to pursue graduatestudies and/or research careers.Prior work has indicated that summer undergraduate research experiences increase students’ selfefficacy for graduate school and research careers, and in particular, graduate student mentorswho work closely with students on their projects served as “coping models” in developingundergraduates’ self-efficacy, a theme relevant to Lent’s Social Cognitive Career Theory. Othertheoretical backgrounds may provide important insights into the benefits of graduate-undergraduate relationships during these research experiences. This work utilizes Lin’s NetworkTheory of Social Capital to investigate the following research question: What role, if any, dograduate students play in undergraduate researchers’ development of availability, access, andactivation of social capital resources related to research and academic/career plans? Socialcapital can be described as “resources gained through relationships” and can have significantimpacts on one’s chosen academic/career goals and paths.Individual semi-structured interviews (N = 14) were conducted with REU students, andinterview transcripts were coded and analyzed using NVivo, a software package for qualitativedata analysis. Initial codes were developed based on Lin’s aspects of social capital, andadditional codes were added as other pertinent themes emerged. Results indicate that graduatestudents served as unique and significant agents of social capital associated with plans to pursueacademic/career plans related to research, specifically to attend graduate school. Stronger tieswith graduate students, forged both in an out of the lab, increased undergraduates’ availability,access and activation of research-related social capital. In general, undergraduates reportedfeeling more confident about pursuing graduate studies and/or research careers than those whodid not have such relationships with graduate students. However, weaker ties in theundergraduate-graduate relationships were also significant sources of social capital for theundergraduate researchers, often filling “holes” in the students social networks related toresearch.The study’s implications for designing effective undergraduate research experiences arediscussed. Future work will involve triangulating this interview data with a quantitative study toreveal further information about the influence of graduate students, as well as the undergraduateresearch experience as a whole.

Martin, J. P., & Miller, M. K., & Kennedy, M. S. (2012, June), Graduate Students: Influential Agents of Social Capital for Engineering Undergraduate Researchers Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21436

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