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Using Peer Mentoring to Enhance Student Experience and Increase Retention in Mechanical Engineering

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 5A: Work-In-Progress: 5 Minute Postcard Session I

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Nicolas N. Brown University of Utah

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Nicolas is a senior in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Utah. He is the peer mentoring coordinator for the Department of Mechanical Engineering, as well as an Undergraduate Research Assistant for the Ergonomics and Safety Lab. His current area of research involves designing and integrating control systems on recreational equipment for high-level spinal cord injury patients. Nicolas’ senior design project is the Rodent Tracker; a mechatronics solution for managing wiring harnesses of laboratory rodents in large-scale obstacle courses.

Address: Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Utah, 1495 East 100 South, 1550 MEK, Salt Lake City, UT 84112 Phone: 801-808-3571 Email:

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Joy Velarde University of Utah

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Joy Velarde is an Academic Advisor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Brigham Young University and a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education Administration from Boston College.

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Debra J. Mascaro University of Utah

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Debra J. Mascaro is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah. She holds a B.A. in Physics from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, and a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She primarily teaches freshman design and programming courses.

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This work in progress describes a new peer mentor program for first year mechanical engineering students at a large public institution in the intermountain west. The program was initiated to help address the high attrition rate in the major, which at this institution is on par with the national average (according to ASEE, 40-50% of engineering students will drop out or transfer to another major). According to “Leaving Engineering: A Multi-Year Single Institution Study” (Mara, Shen, Rogers & Bogue, 2006), the top three reasons students will leave an engineering-based discipline in the first year of study are: (1) the perceived lack of belonging in an engineering program, (2) issues related to difficulty of curriculum and (3) poor teaching or advising. It is expected that the peer mentor program will impact retention by creating a sense of belonging in the department and at the university. Peer mentor programs have been shown to increase both (1) levels of student success during the transition to higher education and (2) the likelihood of students identifying with the university community in multiple studies. In an effort to help new students feel included, this department of mechanical engineering has implemented a peer-mentoring program to serve all students new to the major, including incoming first-year and transfer students. The program distinguishes itself from similar peer-mentoring programs in the following ways. First, the program is administered by the mechanical engineering department and services only mechanical engineering students to allow for major-specific focus and unity between the peer mentors and their mentees. Second, the peer-mentoring program is an “opt-out” program, meaning all students new to the mechanical engineering department are assigned a peer mentor before their first semester in the program. Third, peer mentors are recruited on a volunteer-only basis. Lastly, efforts were made to pair mentors and students based on common demographics and interests. During the summer of 2015, a call for volunteers and application form was emailed out to all junior- and senior-level students in the mechanical engineering major. 24 volunteers were recruited, comprised of juniors, seniors, international students, men, women, honors students, transfer students, and veterans. Next, all newly admitted students to the major (students must apply and be admitted to register for mechanical engineering courses) were sent a survey asking optional demographic questions and questions regarding interests and hobbies that were also asked of the mentors on their application, in order to match students with mentors with similar backgrounds. Questions were also asked to help gauge the effectiveness of the program (another survey will be sent to the students at the end of the fall semester). New students were then matched with mentors based on the demographic and interest data, and students who did not answer the survey, or indicated that they did not want their answers to be used when pairing them with a mentor, were randomly assigned a mentor. In all, close to 250 new students were assigned a peer mentor, with each mentor assigned about 10 students. Peer mentors attended a two-hour training and were provided a training manual and peer mentor t-shirt. They were asked to email their mentees before the start of fall classes to introduce themselves and offer any advice or assistance the student may need. They were encouraged to meet in person within the first week or two of classes and an opportunity was provided to do so at a new student barbecue. Mentors were given a timeline of checkpoints to check on their mentees such as before midterm and final exams. The initial anecdotal response from new students, mentors, faculty and staff has been overwhelmingly positive. This work in progress will describe the outcomes of the first academic year of the program, comparing current with prior year attrition rates, survey outcomes, and open interview question sessions conducted with both the peer mentors and their mentees to determine the overall effectiveness of the program. We will also analyze the data to determine if there was any difference in effectiveness of pairing a student with a mentor based on similar demographics or interests, versus randomly pairing students with mentors. The program will be deemed effective if the attrition rate between first and second semesters in the program drops from previous years, and if students indicate an increased sense of belonging in the department and at the university due to the peer mentor program.

Brown, N. N., & Velarde, J., & Mascaro, D. J. (2016, June), Using Peer Mentoring to Enhance Student Experience and Increase Retention in Mechanical Engineering Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27157

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