REU: Research Initiation: Development Of A Survey Instrument To Identify Mental Health Related Help-Seeking Beliefs In Engineering Students

Grants and Contracts Details


REU Supplement Request – Summer 2023 NSF: RIEF 2024394 Research Initiation: Development of a Survey Instrument to Identify Mental Health Related Help- Seeking Beliefs in Engineering Students Project description: National data show that engineering students with mental health problems are significantly less likely to seek professional help than their peers. While treatment gaps exist for cisgender men, persons of color, and first-generation students in general, disparities are further pronounced in engineering. As a first step, this proposal aims to use a mixed-methods approach to design and refine an instrument to identify key mental health related help-seeking beliefs in undergraduate engineering students. The Integrated Behavioral Model (IBM) is an empirically supported social scientific framework that can be applied to identify beliefs that influence behavior within a given population. A central component of the IBM is the use of qualitative interviews, which in this context will identify key beliefs that influence engineering students’ mental health related help-seeking. To better understand these beliefs in engineering students, we have conducted interviews with 33 engineering students from diverse background (e.g., major, year of study, gender, race/ethnicity). Deductive qualitative coding was used to identify key beliefs for incorporation into an instrument that reflects the student perspectives and norms developed through the engineering formation process. These beliefs were integrated into a comprehensive research instrument for identifying mental health related help-seeking beliefs in engineering students. Proposed REU student project and PI experience: Over the past two years, our research group has used the instrument developed through the RIEF proposal to collect data from over 800 first year engineering students to better understand their mental health status and the beliefs they have about seeking help for a mental health concern. In addition, data was collected on engineering identity, grit/growth mindset and sense of belonging. For their research project, the REU student will explore how these measures change as students’ progress through their first year in engineering at the University of Kentucky. The REU student will work directly with two mentors for the summer: 1) PI Sarah Wilson and 2) Undergraduate researcher Sara Lamer (Summer 2022 REU student who transferred to the University of Kentucky and continued to work in the Wilson lab). Through the 2022 REU program, Sara determined changes in the mental health symptoms and help-seeking beliefs of engineering students as they navigated their first year in engineering. Results show that symptoms of anxiety and depression increase in first-year engineering students throughout the academic year (September through May). Mental health help-seeking attitudes become less positive whereas intention to seek help and perceptions that others would support their help seeking increased. Through Summer 2023, the REU student will first repeat this analysis for the new dataset gathered over the 2022-2023 academic year. Next, the student will work to characterize differences in the beliefs of students between the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 academic years. They will then look at differences in mental health status and help-seeking beliefs for students in different subpopulations (gender identity, race/ethnicity, etc.). Both PI Sarah Wilson and Mentor Sara Lamer have significant experience in the research methods that will be used by the student. The REU student will learn skills in the statistical software SPSS, as well as learn appropriate statistical methods for working with large quantitative datasets. Across the summer, they will also participate in a group meeting with engineering education faculty and students from outside institutions (e.g., Dr. Sindia Rivera-Jimenez from University of Florida) which will allow them to learn and present research methods, journal critiques and research overviews. Mentoring: Through this REU experience, the student will learn quantitative social science research skills, as well as understand the IRB process, perform literature searches and work in an interdisciplinary engineering education research group. In addition to individual meetings with the PI, the student will take part in two research group meetings: one focused on the refinement of a quantitative instrument to measure help-seeking beliefs in undergraduate engineering students (NSF:EEC 2225567) and one focused on inductive qualitative analysis of the 33 interviews conducted for this grant (NSF:EEC 2024394). These group meetings consist of graduate students and faculty from counseling psychology and chemical engineering. Through these meetings, the student will gain exposure to both qualitative and quantitative research in engineering education. Additionally, the student will get to work with a cohort of REU students hosted by chemical engineering at the University of Kentucky. This program will have weekly seminar sessions to expose the student to research outside the area of engineering education. Through the funding of this REU project, the student will also be able to attend a national conference. Across the summer, I will work with the student on writing of a conference publication for the American Society for Engineering Education national conference. They will then have the opportunity to travel to Portland, Oregon for the conference during the Summer of 2024. The student could also be co- author on future publications associated with this dataset that will be submitted to engineering education journals (e.g., JEE, SEE). Through this experience, the student will gain research experience in engineering education that will make them competitive in future graduate school applications. Finally, if the student is a senior, I will integrate mentoring on the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program and assist them in writing their proposal with a research focus in engineering education. Criteria for selection: The REU student will be an undergraduate student (in either a 4-year or 2- year school) in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics discipline and must be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or permanent resident of the United States. They will be asked to submit a resume, unofficial transcript and personal statement that describes their interest in engineering education and how it fits in with their 5-year career goals. Based on these application materials, the most qualified student will be selected for the position.
Effective start/end date8/1/208/31/24


  • National Science Foundation


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