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Investigating Best Practices in the Research Mentoring of Underrepresented Minority Students in Engineering: The Impact of Informal Interactions

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Learning Outside the Classroom

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.971.1 - 22.971.17



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Paper Authors


Cheryl Allendoerfer University of Washington

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Dr. Allendoerfer is a Research Scientist in the University of Washington's College of Engineering.

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Jessica M. Yellin University of Washington

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Investigating Best Practices in the Research Mentoring of Underrepresented Minority Students in EngineeringThis study addresses the need to increase the numbers of traditionally underrepresented minority(URM) students in engineering careers through an investigation of the role of research mentoringin recruiting and retaining URM students in engineering. Mentoring students in engineering andscience research has long been acknowledged as an effective way to engage undergraduates inengineering majors, and is also an essential component of the doctoral degrees that represent thegateway to careers in engineering research. This study was guided by the following questions: 1)What can we identify as best practices in mentoring and supervising URM students as theyconduct engineering research? 2) How is the effectiveness of these practices perceived by URMpopulations? 3) To what extent are these best practices in research mentoring congruent withcommonly accepted guidelines for undergraduate and graduate students from majority groups?In order to answer these questions, data was collected through an online survey of a nationwidesample of URM engineering undergraduate students, graduate students, and recent PhDrecipients. This survey included open-ended questions eliciting narratives of critical incidentsand multiple choice questions about the respondents’ experiences with mentoring in engineeringresearch. Semi-structured follow-up interviews were conducted by telephone with a sub-set ofthe survey respondents, in which subjects were asked to clarify or expand on their surveyresponses. Through coding and narrative analysis of qualitative data and triangulation withquantitative survey data, several themes emerged regarding the impacts of mentoring andstudents’ perceptions of best practices in research mentoring. In this paper, we focus on onetheme which stood out in the data: the role of informal mentoring by research supervisors inretaining undergraduate students in engineering. 61% of the undergraduate respondentsindicated that mentoring during their research experience contributed significantly to theirpersistence in engineering, including decisions to major in engineering, go on to graduate school,and/or pursue a career in engineering. Of those respondents, most cited informal types ofmentoring as being influential. By “informal” mentoring we refer to interactions during astudent’s research experience that are not specifically related to the research project at hand, suchas conversations about career or academic pathways, or support during struggles in a student’spersonal life. In this paper we describe what informal mentoring looks like in the context ofengineering research experiences, and the ways in which this form of mentoring has contributedto students’ persistence in engineering. We also explore how informal mentoring may beparticularly beneficial for URM students. We propose that incorporating more informal types ofmentoring into the research mentor-mentee relationship is one effective way for faculty tofacilitate the retention of URM undergraduate students in engineering.

Allendoerfer, C., & Yellin, J. M. (2011, June), Investigating Best Practices in the Research Mentoring of Underrepresented Minority Students in Engineering: The Impact of Informal Interactions Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18197

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