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Peer Leadership and Mentoring in Engineering: A Potential Path for Changing Organizational Culture to Positively Impact Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

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2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 29, 2018

Start Date

April 29, 2018

End Date

May 2, 2018

Conference Session

Race/Ethnicity Track - Technical Session III

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Paper Authors


Paula Lynn Rees University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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Paula L. Sturdevant Rees is Assistant Dean for Diversity in the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst. As Director of Diversity Programs, Dr. Rees works with students, faculty and staff to provide exceptional education and professional growth opportunities for under-represented students in engineering. She is dedicated to increasing and maintaining student interest in engineering and related science and technology and works with several regional K12 programs to help increase the pipeline of students interested in pursuing careers in these fields.

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David J. McLaughlin University of Massachusetts, Amherst

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I presently serve as Associate Engineering Dean for Student Affairs & Administration and Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering at UMass Amherst since 2005; Previously was Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UMass Amherst and Northeastern University.

Prior to becoming Associate Dean, I served as director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) from 2003 - 2013. I also have served as part-time Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Company, Integrated Defense Systems Division, 2008 - 2015.

I've been the recipient of the Outstanding Accomplishments in Research and Creative Activity Award, Alumni Association Distingiushed Faculty Award, Distinguished Lecturer Award, Chancellor's Medal, and DIstinguished Teaching Awards at UMass Amherst between 2005 and 2016. I serve as Ambassador for Teaching for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity at UMass Amherst 2016/17.

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In Fall 2017, the College of Engineering implemented an “all-in” mentoring program, called the Engineer-to-Engineer Network, linking first-year students with an upper-level engineering student peer mentor. A sequence of two, one-credit seminar courses are under development to provide foundational support for the network. In the spring, Special Topics in Mentoring will provide training for the upper-level engineering peers on how to be an effective mentor and what to look for in a mentoring relationship for themselves. Engineer-peers enrolled in the class will develop strategies for engaging the first-year student cohort entering the subsequent fall. Peer Leadership in Engineering will be offered each fall to support implementation of the Engineer-to-Engineer Network while also taking a deeper dive into topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion, providing peer-engineers insight on how to work effectively with a wide range of individuals. Peer Leadership in Engineering will also be utilized as a “sandbox” in which to test methodologies for discussing equity and inclusion issues with engineering students. The goal is to subsequently implement effective tools within core departmental seminar courses at the first-year through senior level and/or through evening workshops. Our hypothesis is that a long-term positive shift in the culture of the College, making it more welcoming and supportive of all, will result from working closely with a core group of undergraduate leaders each year to welcome all new students and provide rich extra-curricular opportunities for students across levels and departments to interact. A more welcoming climate will in turn support the College’s efforts to increase the number of women and students of color, while simultaneously improving persistence and graduation rates. Background information on the motivation for these efforts, further details, and preliminary findings of this work in progress are presented.

Rees, P. L., & McLaughlin, D. J. (2018, April), Peer Leadership and Mentoring in Engineering: A Potential Path for Changing Organizational Culture to Positively Impact Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Paper presented at 2018 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference, Crystal City, Virginia.

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