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Work-in-Progress: Inclusive Mentoring Strategies for Neurodivergent Undergraduate Researchers in STEM

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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

Disability, Neurodivergence, and Sense of Belonging in STEM: Equity, Culture & Social Justice in Education Division Technical Session 5

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Paper Authors


Jeffrey Halpern University of New Hampshire

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Jeffrey M. Halpern is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He earned his B.S.E. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. He has mentored over twenty undergraduates in the past six years, and he was awarded the Educator’s Award from LEAP for Education in 2019. He integrates inclusive mentoring into a rigorous undergraduate research experience to optimize the success of each individual.

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Mariah Arral Carnegie Mellon University

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Mariah Arral is a 4th year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Her Ph.D. advisor is Dr. Kathryn Whitehead, and her thesis research focuses on lipid nanoparticle-mediated messenger RNA (mRNA) delivery. Mariah obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire and did her Honors thesis with Dr. Jeffrey Halpern studying electrochemical biosensors. She has received multiple awards including the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP). Mariah is an openly disabled scientist and has a passion for creating equitable access to education for everyone. During her undergraduate studies, she developed an interest in studying mentorship of disabled individuals and initiated an ongoing research project with Dr. Halpern. In addition to her mentorship research, Mariah enjoys advocating for the disability community.

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Julianna Gesun Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE)

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Julianna Gesun, Ph.D., is currently a National Science Foundation/American Society for Engineering Education engineering postdoctoral fellow and postdoctoral diversity and innovations scholar in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire. Her research focuses on discovering and understanding strength factors that contribute to more thriving undergraduate engineering students and aspects of engineering culture and contexts that support thriving. Her research interests intersect the fields of positive psychology, engineering education, and human development to understand the intrapersonal, cognitive, social, behavioral, contextual, cultural, and outcomes factors that influence thriving in engineering. She received her Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Purdue University, where she was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and the winner of Purdue's 2021 Three Minute Thesis competition for her work in developing research and courses on engineering thriving. She also received dual bachelor's degrees in Industrial Engineering and Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her prior work experiences include product management, consulting, tutoring, marketing, and information technology.

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In this work-in-progress research paper, we discuss our approaches to undergraduate mentoring strategies towards neurodivergent student’s conducting undergraduate STEM research. Despite the increase in STEM students who report disabilities, few resources are available to train mentors to work with this population. The neurodivergent community is often inappropriately perceived to have disadvantages with STEM-based research and face exacerbated challenges when pursuing undergraduate research with STEM faculty.

We investigate different mentoring strategies that support neurodivergent STEM undergraduate researchers to thrive. First, we created a survey (see Appendix A) for the undergraduate research community, and we will recruit local participants to understand our research questions. The goal of the survey is to provide a first look at (1) what mentoring processes/approaches promote thriving for neurodivergent students? and (2) which strategies create a cohesive mentoring strategy to promote thriving for the entire neurodiverse community? Next, we will use the survey to identify interview candidates including professors, neurodivergent students, and neurotypical students to explore and understand various factors that empower thriving neurodivergent STEM undergraduate researchers. Increasing the success of neurodivergent STEM undergraduate students through mentorship not only broadens participation in STEM but also provides more role models for current and future students.

Halpern, J., & Arral, M., & Gesun, J. (2022, August), Work-in-Progress: Inclusive Mentoring Strategies for Neurodivergent Undergraduate Researchers in STEM Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. 10.18260/1-2--41772

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