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What’s Trust Got to Do with It? Assessing a Research-Based Mentoring Program for Novice Engineers

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

First-Year Programs (FPD) Poster Session

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1368.1 - 23.1368.18



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Paper Authors


Alyssa N Berg University of Colorado Boulder

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Alyssa is currently pursuing a master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder. Her focus is primarily on energy and the environment.

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Janet Y Tsai University of Colorado at Boulder Orcid 16x16

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Janet Y. Tsai is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, whose work examines and develops initiatives to encourage more students, especially women, into the field of engineering. Currently, Tsai's research focuses on understanding the dynamics of how status and prestige are constructed among novice engineers.

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Virginia Lea Ferguson Mechanical Engineering; University of Colorado; Boulder, CO


Beverly Louie University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dr. Beverly Louie is the director for teaching and learning initiatives in the Broadening Opportunities through Leadership and Diversity (BOLD) Center in CU’s College of Engineering and Applied Science. She holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering from CU, and a D.Phil. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Oxford, England. Dr. Louie’s research interests are in the areas of engineering student retention and performance, teaching effectiveness and collaborative learning.

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What’s Trust Got to Do with It? Assessing a Research-Based Mentoring Program for Novice EngineersCurrently a research-based undergraduate mentoring program is in its third year ofimplementation at a large public university. The initial goals of the program were to improve theretention rate of women and underrepresented minorities in undergraduate engineering, buildundergraduate interest in research, and prepare graduate students for leadership roles in eitherindustry or academia. The program is held during the spring semester, where the undergraduatestudents are enrolled in a one-credit seminar where they learn about a variety of researchpractices and opportunities, hear about the graduate school process, meet industry professionals,and tour college research laboratories hosted by faculty members. In addition to being enrolledin the seminar, the undergraduates are paired with a graduate mentor and work closely in theirlabs on a hypothesis-driven, level-appropriate project. To gain further information on studentattitudes, undergraduate students also complete several surveys to gauge their excitement andinterest in engineering prior to beginning their research. The students also complete a post-research survey about their experiences, and complete weekly qualitative reflective questionsthrough an online process. The undergraduate students gain practical research experience anddemonstrate their accomplishments in an end-of-semester poster presentation.Based on feedback in the initial year, several improvements were implemented in the program’ssecond year. These included a seminar for graduate mentors with the goal of improvingmentoring techniques and communication with their mentees. As well as increasing the numberof both graduate and undergraduate students in the program, and implementing improvements tograduate mentor training, themes of trust and commitment were analyzed in the second year ofthis program. Previously, trust has been examined primarily in large business organizations, withlittle emphasis on one-on-one mentoring relationships between engineers. This unique way ofassessing mentoring relationships in engineering can result in more comprehensive guidelines onbuilding relationships across research. Both the undergraduate and graduate students were askedseveral reflective questions over the course of the semester regarding the level of trust in theirrelationships. The findings from these qualitative results will be presented, along with guidelinesthat can improve research-based mentoring programs. Among the findings is the evidence thatcollaborative work strategies can enhance trust and create better relationships between mentorsand mentees. Additionally, the undergraduates gain meaningful insight through the weeklyinteractions with their fellow undergraduates and the program directors. The results indicate thatmore frequent contact with the graduate mentors will be needed to establish a greater consistencyin mentoring approaches across the program. The results also show that there is high value for allparticipants in a research-based mentoring program, especially in establishing levels of trust thathelp to inform and empower the novice engineer. The research results from this implementationcan guide others as they establish similar programs.

Berg, A. N., & Tsai, J. Y., & Ferguson, V. L., & Louie, B. (2013, June), What’s Trust Got to Do with It? Assessing a Research-Based Mentoring Program for Novice Engineers Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22753

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