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Work in Progress: Using Photovoice to Examine the Mental Health Experiences of Engineering Graduate Students During COVID-19

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Graduate Studies Division Technical Session 3

Tagged Division

Graduate Studies

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Sarah Jane Bork University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Sarah received her B.S. and M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Ohio State University in 2017, and her M.S. in Engineering Education Research from the University of Michigan in 2020. As a doctoral candidate in Engineering Education Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Sarah is studying the mental health experiences of engineering graduate students.

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Joi-Lynn Mondisa University of Michigan Orcid 16x16

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Joi Mondisa is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering and an Engineering Education Faculty Member at the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor. Dr. Mondisa holds a PhD in Engineering Education, an MS in Industrial Engineering, an MBA, and a BS in General Engineering. She researches STEM mentoring experiences and mentoring intervention programs in higher education.

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Mental health service utilization and reported mental health problems (e.g., anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation) have risen nationally. Accessibility to mental health resources is a critical concern for higher education institutions. College and university campus counseling centers are unable to keep pace with students’ counseling needs. Furthermore, other resources (e.g., off-campus counseling centers) have a myriad of additional barriers that prevent students from accessing them, including cost, knowledge of services, lack of time, and mental health professional shortages. This is of great concern as students’ academic progress has been shown to correlate to their mental state, with undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems affecting students’ satisfaction, academic performance, research productivity, and intention to persist. Furthermore, delayed access to care is known to be a factor in increased frequency of relapse and the course of the illness. In studying mental health in higher education, researchers often group together graduate and undergraduate student populations. Yet, these studies may not account for major differences among these groups’ degree programs and academic fields of study, including differing academic and social demands. Studies on engineering graduate students are particularly sparse, with most work focusing on the experiences of specific demographic communities (e.g., Black, women, or international graduate students). Work done highlights disparaging results, with engineering students exhibiting higher levels of self-reported measures of mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD). Research is needed to explore engineering graduate students’ mental health experiences, probing more deeply at students’ typical behaviors and how these behaviors are informed by expectations of being an engineer.

In this pilot study, we use photovoice, a photograph elicitation and interview process, to explore how eight engineering graduate students at a large public university quantify and describe their mental health experiences. Data is being collected using an initial survey, submitted images and captions, individual interviews, and a focus group. Preliminary findings report results from the initial survey, to include measures on depression, anxiety, flourishing, academic challenges, and perceived work-life balance. These findings may provide vital information on the underlying culture in engineering with respect to mental health. Data will also show how engineering graduate students situate themselves within the engineering environment (e.g., their departments, research labs, and classes), or how they “fit”. This study will provide insight into the current state of engineering graduate student mental health and the interactions between engineering graduate students’ mental health experiences, their individual expectations, and the culture of mental health in engineering. This information is vital to promote the matriculation of engineering graduate students into the workforce.

Bork, S. J., & Mondisa, J. (2021, July), Work in Progress: Using Photovoice to Examine the Mental Health Experiences of Engineering Graduate Students During COVID-19 Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36525

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