Asee peer logo

Mentoring Low-SES Students and Developing Professional Support Networks

Download Paper |


2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Robert Stwalley Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE)

visit author page

Dr. Robert M. Stwalley III, P.E. joined the Agricultural & Biological Engineering department as a faculty member in the fall of 2013. He earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Biological Engineering (ABE) and his M.S.E. and Ph.D. from Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University. Dr. Stwalley is the former Director of Professional Practice at Purdue, has more than 20 years in STEM education, and has been a long-term advocate for improving equity in education. He is a long serving public school board member and Past-President of the Indiana School Board Association. In his current capacity as an ABE professor, Dr. Stwalley works on precision livestock instrumentation to improve animal welfare and performance, increasing potable water access in the developing world through tube well utilization, and equity in access to higher education for low socio-economic status students. Dr. Stwalley developed the Rising Scholars program to help demonstrate that access and support are the most crucial elements of success in higher education for STEM majors.

visit author page

author page

Grace Baldwin

author page

Virginia Booth-Womack Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE)

author page

Sarah Larose

author page

Carol Stwalley Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE)

Download Paper |


The National Science Foundation has funded this S-STEM program to collect support network information about low socioeconomic status (SES) students and to provide scholarships to assist those students in their quest to obtain a degree in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics discipline. The Rising Scholar program studied the methods of improving recruitment, retention, and graduation for these students. This paper will discuss a Web of Support characterization model which has shown success at a public, R1, Midwestern university. A prior paper on how these students were selected was presented in 2020. This paper will discuss the methodology of measuring and the intentional building of support networks that was used in the program to record the changing dynamics of these students’ support networks as they advanced at the university.

The Web of Support methodology used in the Rising Scholar Program was developed to support the Indigenous People of Alaska, who had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and suicide in the country at the time. It was found that youth who had five adult anchors could withstand peer pressure and succeed in bettering their lives. This successful program demonstrating the bettering of lives was the basis for developing this collegiate curriculum to assist low-SES students in earning the STEM degree that they desired. These students typically had no collegiate-based experiences within their preliminary support networks and were discouraged when they were not accepted directly into their major of choice. The Rising Scholar proscribed pathway through the university was designed to give these students opportunities to meet and get to know professional and staff members of the university community that could join their professional support networks. During their journey through the program, data were collected to quantify the strength of the students’ network.

This paper will discuss the emergence and quantification of the students’ professional web of support as they worked in university laboratories, got to know various professors and graduate students, and learned to intentionally keep these individuals as support mentors. Both number and strength of their support networks were collected annually and sometimes twice a year. Each supporter had several potential ways to support their student. These students were encouraged to add professional mentors, while keeping their original pre-college network. Examples of these support anchors mentors assisting students will be provided.

Stwalley, R., & Baldwin, G., & Booth-Womack, V., & Larose, S., & Stwalley, C. (2022, August), Mentoring Low-SES Students and Developing Professional Support Networks Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--42031

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: © 2022 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