Asee peer logo

Retention Programming For Graduate Students: An Innovative Group Mentoring Component

Download Paper |


2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Women in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1049.1 - 13.1049.11



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Suzanne Zurn-Birkhimer Purdue University, West Lafayette

visit author page

Dr. Zurn-Birkhimer, Associate Director of the Women in Engineering Program at Purdue University, received a BS in Mathematics from the University of Minnesota, and an MS and PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from Purdue. Prior to joining WIEP, she was an Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences at St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, IN and Assistant Department Head of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Purdue. Her research focuses on developing programs to enhance the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups to the STEM disciplines.

visit author page


Beth Holloway Purdue University

visit author page

Ms. Holloway, Director of the Women in Engineering Program at Purdue University, received a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue. She worked as a research and development engineering for Cummins, Inc. for nine years. Ms. Holloway is the 07-08 Immediate Past President of WEPAN (Women in Engineering Programs & Advocates Network).

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Retention Programming for Graduate Students: An Innovative Group Mentoring Component Abstract

The Women in Engineering Program (WIEP) was introduced at Purdue University in 1969, with a focus on offering educational enhancement activities for women interested in pursuing engineering degrees. Programming has evolved over the past 38 years to include a K-12 outreach program, undergraduate recruiting activities, and graduate, undergraduate and faculty retention programs. Specifically to address the needs of our female graduate population, the Graduate Mentoring Program (GMP) was established in 1994. For more than 13 years, the WIEP Graduate Mentoring Program has provided a supportive environment to enable female engineering students to share information and strategies to achieve success personally, academically, and professionally. The goal of the GMP is to provide the participants with a networking arena to foster academic goals, establish personal connections, develop leadership and mentoring skills, and address their personal aspirations. These goals are achieved within the framework of a networking mentoring model which has been outlined by Walthall, Holloway and Reklaitis.1 They found that students who participated in the WIEP GMP were more likely to be retained in the Purdue University College of Engineering graduate program due to the support network and community environment such a group provides. However, due to a recent decline in participation, an innovative departmental-based group mentoring component was introduced to the program in Fall 2007. The goal of the component is to encourage participants to act as both mentors and mentees when their vast, diverse experience allows. Instead of suppressing (or failing to recognize) the participants life experiences and acquired knowledge with one-on-one mentoring, our program encourage students to share their numerous experience though the group mentoring activities. This paper will provide an overview of the structure of the Purdue University Women in Engineering Graduate Mentoring Program, explore the participant data for the Graduate Mentoring Program, describe the innovative departmental-based group mentoring component, and examine the formative and summative evaluations provided by the participants.


Hall and Sandler originally coined the term “chilly climate” to summarize the difficulties encountered by undergraduate women in the classroom.2 However, through further research they extended this term to include female faculty, administrator and graduate students both inside and outside of the classroom.3, 4 “Chilly climate” is used to describe an environment where women have feelings of isolation, feel subtle discrimination, and experience other persistent inequalities. While the initial study is almost 30 years old, and significant improvements have been made to the academic environment, female students still feel the “chilly climate”. Litzler, Lange and Brainard show that the “chilly climate” in combination with the traditional culture of science and engineering disciplines is negatively associated with graduate student advancement and retention.5 They found that women are more likely than men to feel isolated, that the pace is quicker, the workload is greater, and experience gender discrimination. Therefore, Litzler et al. contend that departments that can create a climate that is “interactive and facilitating” (i.e. mentors and advisors that care about student success) will lead to higher career commitment from their female students.5

Zurn-Birkhimer, S., & Holloway, B. (2008, June), Retention Programming For Graduate Students: An Innovative Group Mentoring Component Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3753

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: © 2008 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