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Understanding Engineering Doctoral Preparation and Socialization through McNair Scholars Program Alumni

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

ERM: Persistence and Attrition in Engineering

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Paper Authors


Kanembe Shanachilubwa Pennsylvania State University

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4th-year doctoral student at Penn State University. Research interests include graduate attrition, persistence, and socialization.

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Catherine Berdanier Pennsylvania State University

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Catherine G.P. Berdanier is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University and is the Director of the online Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering Program at Penn State. Her research interests include graduate-and postdoctoral-level engineering education; attrition and persistence mechanisms, metrics, policy, and amelioration; engineering writing and communication; and methodological development for nontraditional data. Her NSF CAREER award studies master’s-level departure from the engineering doctorate as a mechanism of attrition. Catherine earned her B.S. in Chemistry from The University of South Dakota, her M.S. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Purdue University, and Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Purdue University.

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Gabriella Sallai Pennsylvania State University

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Gabriella Sallai is a PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University. Her work characterizes engineering graduate students’ experiences within graduate school. Gaby earned a Bachelor’s degree in Physics and Women & Gender Studies from Franklin & Marshall College. She was a co-chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for the Graduate Women in Science Penn State chapter and is the vice president of the Graduate Women in Engineering organization at Penn State University.

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Recent trends in engineering education show an increased effort to mitigate the rate of attrition in graduate programs. Previous work has identified several factors that correlate with student departure, including academic environment, interest, advisor-advisee relationship, self-efficacy, and socialization. Furthermore, underrepresented groups in graduate education often contend with elevated or additional challenges to their preparation and socialization because of their historically marginalized social identities. Various programs and initiatives, such as the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (or McNair, for short), have sought to increase graduate enrollment among these populations, demonstrating effects on increasing graduate enrollment among underrepresented students. Aside from evaluative data, few studies show how socialization for graduate programs begins in these undergraduate programs and translates to graduate socialization processes. Leveraging the McNair program and its alumni as an ideal platform to study the development and translation of graduate socialization processes through undergraduate and graduate programs, this work in progress paper (WIP) presents the research design for an upcoming study. In this study, we examine McNair alumni pursuing doctoral degrees in engineering disciplines to examine how the program prepared them to cope with graduate education challenges and explore the socialization of graduate students via these types of undergraduate academic support programs. The findings of this study will reveal how student preparation can facilitate their persistence during the transition to graduate education. Ultimately, these findings will show which support mechanisms and services are lacking from the typical graduate socialization process. This insight will allow all engineering departments to better facilitate the preparation of students before beginning graduate education. Furthermore, it will outline preventative measures to mitigate many of the everyday adverse situations graduate students encounter.

Shanachilubwa, K., & Berdanier, C., & Sallai, G. (2022, August), Understanding Engineering Doctoral Preparation and Socialization through McNair Scholars Program Alumni Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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