Asee peer logo

Understanding the Mentoring Needs of African-American Female Engineering Students: A Phenomenographic Preliminary Analysis

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Shaping the Future: Structured Mentoring for Today's Diverse Engineering Student Populations

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1625.1 - 26.1625.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Courtney S. Smith Virginia Tech

visit author page

Courtney S. Smith is a PhD candidate in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Her research interests span the mentoring experiences of African American women in engineering, campus climate and best practices for diversity and inclusion in the STEM classroom.

visit author page


Marie C. Paretti Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Marie C. Paretti is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she co-directs the Virginia Tech Engineering Communications Center (VTECC). Her research focuses on communication in engineering design, interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, design education, and gender in engineering. She was awarded a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation to study expert teaching in capstone design courses, and is co-PI on numerous NSF grants exploring communication, design, and identity in engineering. Drawing on theories of situated learning and identity development, her work includes studies on the teaching and learning of communication, effective teaching practices in design education, the effects of differing design pedagogies on retention and motivation, the dynamics of cross-disciplinary collaboration in both academic and industry design environments, and gender and identity in engineering.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Characteristics of Effective Mentoring of African American Women in Engineering: A Phenomenographic Pilot StudySeeking to improve retention of underrepresented minorities within the STEM fields, we oftendiscuss why they are leaving, but spend less time on the measures that have aided in theirpersistence. Support remains one of the top factors that impacts the retention of all student, butespecially for students of color. Research has shown that mentoring is an essential source inproviding support for students of color. Our current understanding of the role of mentoring or thecritical components are incomplete. For example, the mentoring experiences of AfricanAmerican women, especially in the field of engineering, is currently not the focus of studies Tofill this gap in the literature, the aim of this study is to gain an understanding of the componentsof effective mentoring for African American women in engineering, specifically through facultymentors. Phenomenography is the method of analysis for this study due to its capability to minimizeessentialization and placing value in variations within a phenomenon of interest or experience. Inother words, this method does not aim to generalize the experiences of all African Americanwomen in engineering. A group that lives at the intersection of both African American andfemale identities, which are experienced simultaneously. African American women’s sociallydefined categorizations provides a unique perspective that can distinctively impact theirexperiences, including their mentoring relationships. Designed as a qualitative study, studentinterviews solicit explicit examples of their experiences to provide insight into their individualmentoring relationships. A pilot study was conducted with five women, both graduate andundergraduate were interviewed about their undergraduate mentoring experiences, each lasting90-120 minutes.Investigation of their unique mentoring experiences resulted in the identification of specificcharacteristic categories that articulate the numerous ways in which this specific group ofAfrican American women have experienced faculty mentoring; keeping in mind thatgeneralization is not a goal of the study or phenomenography. Expressed as separate categories,the result of this study shed light on certain factors that have not been discussed in currentmentoring literature, most likely as it focuses on a unique group that has not frequently been thefocus of established mentoring frameworks.

Smith, C. S., & Paretti, M. C. (2015, June), Understanding the Mentoring Needs of African-American Female Engineering Students: A Phenomenographic Preliminary Analysis Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24961

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: © 2015 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