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What Do Undergraduate Engineering Students at the Onset of Emergency Hybrid Learning During COVID-19 Say About Peer Mentorship?

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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

First-Year Programs Division Technical Session 2: Peer Mentoring/Learning, Teaching Assistants, and Career Mentorship

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Paper Authors


Darcie Christensen Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Dr. Darcie Christensen is a probationary Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrated Engineering at Minnesota State University Mankato. She teaches for Iron Range Engineering on the Minnesota North campus in Virginia, Minnesota. Dr. Christensen received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Utah State University in the Summer of 2021. The title of her Dissertation is “A Mixed-Method Approach to Explore Student Needs for Peer Mentoring in a College of Engineering.” Darcie holds a Master of Engineering degree in Environmental Engineering (2019) and Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Engineering (2017), both from Utah State University. She is passionate about student success and support, both inside and outside of the classroom.

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Idalis Villanueva University of Florida

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For the past 10 years, Dr. Idalis Villanueva has worked on several engineering education projects where she derives from her experiences in engineering to improve outcomes for minoritized groups in engineering using mixed-and multi-modal methods approaches. She currently is an Associate Professor in the Engineering Education Department at the University of Florida. In 2019, she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) award for her NSF CAREER project on hidden curriculum in engineering. Dr. Idalis Villanueva has a B.S. degree is in Chemical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez and a M.S. and Ph.D. degree in Chemical and Biological Engineering from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Soon after, she completed her postdoctoral fellowship from the National Institutes of Health in Analytical Cell Biology in Bethesda, Maryland and worked as a lecturer for 2 years before transitioning to a tenure-track in engineering education. Her experiences as a first-generation engineer, Latinx, woman of color, introvert, and mother has shaped the lens and research-informed practical approaches that she uses in her research.

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This complete research paper addresses the perceptions of undergraduate engineering students during the onset of the worldwide pandemic (COVID-19) in an engineering college at a western institution of the United States. Specifically, these students were asked about their perceived needs around peer mentorship amidst pivoting between hybrid and in-person learning at the onset of COVID-19.

Mentorship is defined as the interaction between two individuals whose goal is to help one another in psychosocial matters, support personal and professional growth, and provide career guidance. Generally, there are two main types of mentorships recognized: traditional and peer. Traditional mentorship involves a mentor who may be older, has much more experience, or holds a power differential when compared to the mentee. Peer mentorship is a relationship between two persons who are at approximately the same personal, professional, or educational stages (with one who may have slightly more experience). Peer mentorship has been shown to address both psychosocial and academic career support needs even though the individuals are at similar stages. Since these near-peers or step-ahead (i.e., mentors who are at the same or just slightly ahead in their development) mentors have recently been in the same situation as the mentee, there is a level of mutuality and interpersonal comfort built, allowing for both the mentor and mentee to benefit from the peer relationship, which may not be present in traditional mentorships.

Peer mentorship generally has positive outcomes for both the mentor and mentee, especially for underrepresented and first-year students, specifically with regards to retention, persistence, and student experience. Despite this, peer mentorship is an often-overlooked resource for student support and success. Yet, peer mentoring may afford sustainable and economical ways to support students in their undergraduate programs while lessening the loads that many administrators, faculty, and staff juggle in their everyday academic responsibilities. From a solely retention standpoint, it is known that the first years of undergraduate engineering education is a pivotal time when many students leave engineering.

According to the literature, introducing mentoring during the first year of a college education has been found to be effective at increasing both recruitment and retention in STEM fields. For example, Dennehy and Dasgupta found that undergraduate women in engineering majors having a same-gender peer mentor early in their education promoted retention and academic success. Freshman in engineering at the University of Arkansas who participated in a peer mentorship program were significantly more likely to return to campus after their first semester, and they also yielded a higher GPA than non-mentored students. Sanchez et al. found that those students who had peer mentors as a first-year student were overall more satisfied with their institution and had stronger intentions of persisting. However, all the aforementioned studies occurred in-person.

While virtual peer mentoring programs are beginning to be explored in engineering, evaluation of student perceptions of their mentoring needs prior to beginning these campus initiatives are lacking. Even before COVID-19, scholarly research reported that feelings of isolation are common in virtual education situations, even for students that may be on-campus and taking fully or partially online courses; this was especially evident during COVID-19 where almost all students transitioned to emergency hybrid learning (EHL) situations and faced the challenge of distancing and isolation. The chain of events and lessons learned during the onset of COVID-19 set an important stage to situate students’ perceived mentoring needs for hybrid and fully online learning environments. As such, understanding these perceived needs before starting virtual mentoring programs will be important as the trends indicate an increasing demand for more accommodating learning and mentoring environments to more flexibly support students’ feelings of isolation, socialization experiences, learning gains, and equitable educational experiences.

As part of a larger mixed-methods dissertation study by Christensen that took place during the Fall of 2020, 223 undergraduate engineering students shared perceptions about their needs with regards to peer mentorship during the early onset of EHL in COVID-19. The focus of this study is a secondary analysis of those student perceptions of peer mentoring needs. This analysis resulted in the development of four recommendations to support implementation of hybrid or fully online peer mentoring efforts, namely normalizing the integration of hybrid peer mentoring options, providing opportunities early and continually, talking about it often, and providing a variety of informal and formal opportunities.

Christensen, D., & Villanueva, I. (2022, August), What Do Undergraduate Engineering Students at the Onset of Emergency Hybrid Learning During COVID-19 Say About Peer Mentorship? Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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: © 2022 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