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Work in Progress: What Does it Mean to Mentor? Conceptions of Mentoring in K-12 Outreach Programs

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

K-12 and Bridge Experiences in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Sabina Anne Schill University of Colorado, Boulder

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Sabina is an environmental engineering PhD student at the University of Colorado Boulder. She received her BS in Physics from Westminster College, SLC in 2015, and spent a year tutoring K-12 students in math before entering graduate school. Sabina participated in the NSF-funded GK-12 Fellowship program in 2016-2017, and in 2019-2020 was a recipient of CU Boulder's Chancellor's Award for Excellence in STEM Education.

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Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) and Director for the Engineering Plus program. She has served as the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Education in the CEAE Department, as well as the ABET assessment coordinator. Professor Bielefeldt was also the faculty director of the Sustainable By Design Residential Academic Program, a living-learning community where students learned about and practice sustainability. Bielefeldt is also a licensed P.E. Professor Bielefeldt's research interests in engineering education include service-learning, sustainable engineering, social responsibility, ethics, and diversity.

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This work in progress paper investigates definitions of mentoring in K12 outreach programs. The National Academies list understanding the role of mentoring as a priority area of inquiry for improving diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Definitions of mentoring differ across the literature; however, common themes exist. Mentoring is generally understood to be a reciprocal relationship between a more experienced person (e.g., the mentor) and an inexperienced person (e.g., the mentee) in a specific field. Though mentoring occurs at many levels within the university setting, this paper focuses on mentoring relationships between undergraduate and graduate student mentors and K12 student mentees found in K12 STEM outreach programs.

This paper presents work towards one of the goals of our pilot study: to better understand if and how mentoring occurs in K12 STEM outreach programs. We aim to understand the conceptions of mentoring held by student mentors and K12 STEM outreach program coordinators. Developing a better understanding of mentoring will add to the existing body of knowledge and may provide clarity on the purpose and scope of these K12 STEM outreach programs.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ~20 current and past university student mentors and ~8 outreach program coordinators from a variety of STEM outreach programs at the University of Colorado Boulder. These individuals represented 6 different K12 STEM outreach programs, with a goal to interview 2 to 10 student mentors from each program and 1 to 3 faculty and/or staff coordinators of these programs. Following initial interview questions regarding current occupation, general experience in their programs, and (for coordinators) program goals, participants were asked, “How do you define mentoring?”

Transcripts of the interviews were created. Qualitative data analysis includes thematic coding by multiple coders. To analyze themes relating to mentoring, we use a priori codes based on Pfund et al.’s (2016) attributes of effective research mentoring (i.e., “listening actively,” “promoting professional development,” etc.) with additional codes developed using a constant comparative method. A negotiated process is being used to resolve differences amongst coders, ensure intercoder agreement, and informally check for intercoder reliability. Though this is an ongoing study in its early stages, preliminary analysis indicates that common themes on mentoring exist across students and faculty. It is important to note that most participants struggled to define mentoring, and that though some programs refer to college students as mentors, program coordinators did not mention “mentoring” as a program goal. Results from the larger pilot study will inform future studies and benefit K12 STEM outreach programs. Specifically, insight on mentoring may also inform other university mentoring programs, such as faculty and peer mentoring for students.

Schill, S. A., & Bielefeldt, A. R. (2020, June), Work in Progress: What Does it Mean to Mentor? Conceptions of Mentoring in K-12 Outreach Programs Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35703

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