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The Mentoring Experience: Finding Value in Guiding Undergraduate Researchers

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Discipline Specific Topics and Techniques

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Page Numbers

24.1234.1 - 24.1234.13



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Paper Authors


Katy Luchini-Colbry Michigan State University

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Katy Luchini-Colbry is the Director for Graduate Recruiting at the College of Engineering at Michigan State University, where she completed degrees in political theory and computer science. A recipient of a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, she earned Ph.D. and M.S.E. in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. She has published nearly two dozen peer-reviewed works related to her interests in educational technology and enhancing undergraduate education through hands-on learning. As a volunteer for Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, Luchini-Colbry facilitates interactive seminars on interpersonal communications and problem solving skills for engineering students across the U.S.

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Korine Steinke Wawrzynski Michigan State University

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Korine Steinke Wawrzynski is the Director for Undergraduate Research in the Provost’s Office at Michigan State University (MSU) and an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Student Affairs Administration master’s program. She brings 10 years of student affairs administrative experience in the areas of residence life, judicial affairs, peer education, leadership development, and academic advising. Currently, she is a Councilor for the Council on Undergraduate Research and is the chair of the Commission for Academic Affairs Administrators for the American College Personnel Association. Her research interests include innovative learning opportunities for undergraduate students, the experiences of women leaders in higher education, and collaborative partnerships between academic and student affairs. Korine has earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Monmouth College, a master’s degree in College Student Personnel, and a doctorate in Higher Education Administration, both from Bowling Green State University.

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Megan A. Shannahan Michigan State University

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The Mentoring Experience: Finding Value in Guiding Undergraduate ResearchersAbstractMany researchers have explored the value to students of participating in undergraduate researchexperiences. Engaging in research allows undergraduates to apply classroom knowledge in newsettings;1 explore or confirm major choices and career pathway;2,3 and prepare for graduatestudy.4–6 Participating in undergraduate research can also help retain and engage students,particularly those in populations that are historically underrepresented in STEM (Science,Technology, Engineering, Math).7–10 One important component of successful undergraduateresearch experiences is that students are able to develop a mentoring relationship with faculty,graduate students, and/or other researchers who can provide guidance during the researchprocess.1,11–15 Often, these mentoring relationships persist over time and become a source offeedback and support as students navigate academic, professional and personal pathways.Unfortunately, many colleges and universities still face significant challenges in recognizing thevalue of mentoring undergraduate researchers in regards to tenure and promotion expectations.16The benefits of having students engaged in a research experience are well documented,17–20 butthe impact of undergraduate research on faculty is not as clear. Quality supervising, training, andmentoring of undergraduate researchers often require a significant time commitment that is notgenerally recognized in teaching loads.21 While many academics view research and teaching ascomplementary, the faculty reward system at research intensive institutions is driven first byresearch and second by teaching.16,22 Thus, faculty may perceive that time devoted to workingwith undergraduate researchers detracts from their own scholarship.We discuss results from surveys of faculty and graduate students involved in mentoringundergraduate research assistants in a summer program at a large, research-intensive universityin the Midwest. The goals of this study were: (1) to examine how mentors set expectations andcommunicated with students early in the research experience; (2) to explore the ways thatmentors and students interact during the research experience; and (3) to explore mentors’experiences and attitudes after working with undergraduate research assistants.Two anonymous surveys were developed: a pre-experience survey was deployed at thebeginning of the summer, and a post-experience survey conducted at the end of the summerresearch experience. 118 research mentors were invited to participate in this study, with 47mentors (40%) completing the pre-experience survey and 56 mentors (47%) completing the post-experience survey. These mentors were identified through their association with specificsummer research programs, or by their prior interactions with the University’s Office ofUndergraduate Research.In each survey, over 75% of respondents were faculty members; the remaining mentors weregraduate students and post-doctoral associates. Mentors were asked about the expectations theydiscussed with their undergraduate research assistants at the beginning of the summer program,the frequency and methods of interactions with their mentees during the summer, and the broaderoutcomes of the mentoring experience. In analyzing responses, the participants were dividedinto “novice” and “experienced” groups based on their previous years of mentoring experience(0-5 years for the novice group, and 6+ years for the experienced group).About half of the respondents said that they had mentoring expertise that would benefit newercolleagues, and the survey data explore specific tasks and techniques used by these experiencedmentors. For example, nearly all of the mentors surveyed talked with students at the beginningof the summer about expected work schedules, safety training/lab protocol, and the intellectualmerits of the research project. 58% of the mentors spent 1-5 hours per week, on average,interacting with their undergraduate student researchers, and 100% provided students with verbalfeedback (64% also provided written feedback). At the end of the summer program, 94% of thementors surveyed agreed that working with undergraduate researchers was a rewardingexperience, and 96% agreed that working with undergraduates positively contributed to theirresearch agenda or process.Analyzing data from these two surveys offers lessons for graduate students, post-doctoralscholars, and other new mentors of undergraduate researchers. These surveys also highlight keyfactors in successful mentoring relationships, which are important in preparing undergraduatesfor success in graduate school and for careers in academia and research.References1. Jackson-Elmoore C, Steinke-Wawrzynski K, Luchini-Colbry K, Boucher-Niemi J. Undergraduate Research: Blending the Scholarship of Discovery, Teaching, Application and Integration. In: Fitzgerald H, Primavera J, editors. Public Civ Community Engagem Scholarsh Pr. MSU Press; forthcoming.2. Kinkead J. Learning Through Inquiry: An Overview of Undergraduate Research. New Dir Teach Learn. 2003 Mar 1;2003(93):5–18.3. Lopatto D. Undergraduate Research Experiences Support Science Career Decisions and Active Learning. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2007;6(4):297–306.4. Pariyothorn M, Autenrieth R. Strategic Use of Summer Undergraduate Research Experiences. Proc 2012 ASEE Natl Conf. San Antonio, TX; 2012.5. Luchini-Colbry K, Steinke-Wawrzynski K, Mangiavellano R, McCune E. Guiding Them to Graduate School: Professional Development for Undergraduates Participating in Engineering Research Programs. Proc 2012 ASEE Natl Conf. San Antonio, TX; 2012.6. Narayanan R. Use of Objective-Based Undergraduate Research Project Experience as a Graduate Student Recruitment Tool. J Eng Educ. 1999 Jul;88(3):361–5.7. Dahlberg T, Barnes T, Rorrer A, Powell E, Cairco L. Improving retention and graduate recruitment through immersive research experiences for undergraduates. SIGCSE Bull. 2008 Mar;40(1):466–70.8. Hurtado S, Cabrera NL, Lin MH, Arellano L, Espinosa LL. Diversifying Science: Underrepresented Student Experiences in Structured Research Programs. Res High Educ. 2008;50(2):189–214.9. Nagda BA, Gregerman SR, Jonides J, von Hippel W, Lerner JS. Undergraduate Student-Faculty Research Partnerships Affect Student Retention. Rev High Educ. 1998;22(1):55–72.10. Resnick ML, Centeno MA, Giachetti R. Research Experience for Undergraduates--Motivating and Retaining Bright Engineering Students. Proc Annu Meet Hum Factors Ergon Soc. 2000;2:79.11. Kardash CM. Evaluation of undergraduate research experience: Perceptions of undergraduate interns and their faculty mentors. J Educ Psychol. 2000;92(1):191–201.12. Karukstis KK, Gourley BL, Wright LL, Rossi M. Mentoring Strategies To Recruit and Advance Women in Science and Engineering. J Chem Educ. 2010;87(4):355–6.13. Labrador MA, Pérez R. Fulfilling Mentors’ Expectations: An REU Site Experience. Proc Southeast Sect Conf Am Soc Eng Educ. 2006.14. Kuh GD. High-impact educational practices: what they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Association of American Colleges and Universities; 2008.15. Lopatto D. Science in Solution: The Impact of Undergraduate Research on Student Learning. Research Corporation for Science Advancement; 2009.16. Evans DR. The Challenge of Undergraduate Research. PEER Rev. 2010;12(2):31.17. Bauer KW, Bennett JS. Alumni Perceptions Used to Assess Undergraduate Research Experience. J High Educ. 2003;74(2):210–30.18. Hunter A-B, Laursen SL, Seymour E. Becoming a Scientist: The Role of Undergraduate Research in Students’ Cognitive, Personal, and Professional Development. Sci Educ. 2007 Jan;91(1):36–74.19. Lopatto D. Survey of Undergraduate Research Experiences (SURE): First Findings. Cell Biol Educ. 2004 Winter;3(4):270 –277.20. Seymour E, Hunter A-B, Laursen SL, DeAntoni T. Establishing the Benefits of Research Experiences for Undergraduates in the Sciences: First Findings from a Three-Year Study. Sci Educ. 2007 Jul;88(4):493–534.21. Thomas E, Gillespie D. Weaving Together Undergraduate Research, Mentoring of Junior Faculty, and Assessment: The Case of an Interdisciplinary Program. Innov High Educ. 2007 Nov 21;33(1):29–38.22. Ash Merkel C. Undergraduate Research at the Research Universities. New Dir Teach Learn. 2003;2003(93):39–54.

Luchini-Colbry, K., & Steinke Wawrzynski, K., & Shannahan, M. A. (2014, June), The Mentoring Experience: Finding Value in Guiding Undergraduate Researchers Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23167

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