Using a research center-based mentoring program to increase the participation of African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans in engineering

Grants and Contracts Details


Summary: The proposed work aims at investigating whether the involvement in research and mentoring of African American, Hispanic and Native American engineering students in research centers - as a complement to traditional engineering departments - can increase their retention and open pathways for them to pursue an academic career in engineering. Indeed, research centers display a number of characteristics that make them an ideal venue for this type of effort, including higher scientific staff-to-student ratios, the absence of the role strain caused by the teaching and administrative load of tenured and tenure-track faculty, and the highly topical nature of their research portfolio. Through this effort, minority students interested in pursuing a career in academia will receive the guidance of a counselor based at the University of Kentucky College of Engineering and a mentor based at the Center for Applied Energy Research, the role of these two individuals being twofold: to create a supportive learning environment that facilitates graduation with engineering degrees; and to help students acquire the skills they need not only to pursue a successful career in academia, but also to become leaders in their professional environment, inspirational role models and champions for the cause of broadening participation in engineering. Intellectual Merit: The value of mentoring has long been recognized both in the literature on the subject and in practice, as evinced by the vast amount of formalized programs and by the considerable amount of literature published in the subject. Indeed, mentoring programs have been found to be an effective way to improve retention and academic performance, develop leadership and increase interest in a career in academia. Unfortunately, mentoring for students of color remains relatively rare, albeit in recent years some mentoring programs have already proved successful in both attracting and improving the retention of minority students. Similarly, although mentoring research has spawned a few literature reports on the mentoring of students in science and engineering majors and some programs have focused on increasing both the number of African American men who earned doctorates and the number of minority college faculty in engineering and the sciences, work in this area is still inchoate. Given that the literature available on mentoring programs is lacking in terms of the potential benefits of housing these programs in research centers relative to traditional engineering departments, this work will be instrumental in addressing that gap, thus adding to the knowledge base on mentoring programs. Emphasis will be placed in addressing the shortcomings of previous mentoring studies, namely, the inclusion of both cross-sectional and longitudinal components in a quasi-experimental design and the use of multiple controls, as well as the acquisition and evaluation of both objective and subjective parameters. Broader Impacts: Minorities continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering both at the doctoral level and in the workforce. Moreover, the loss of science and engineering college majors is disproportionate among minorities, irrespective of whether these individuals show strong SAT scores, high grades and good high school performance in science and math. Notably, attrition among minorities has been attributed to a host of issues - including academic and cultural isolation, lack of peer support to attain academic success, low motivation due to low expectations, and discrimination - all of which can be effectively addressed by focused mentoring initiatives. The mentoring effort proposed will not only help the participants acquire the skills required to make an auspicious entry into academic and professional circles, but will also facilitate their participation in a number of outreach efforts targeting different groups, from community college and high school students to elementary school children in underserved schools and community centers. This will broaden the impact of the proposed work in two important directions: first, it will reach younger students of groups underrepresented in STEM and build pathways leading them to college engineering studies by offering them the opportunity to directly interact with inspirational individuals, i.e. the minority engineering mentees; and second, it will reach other students at and around the institutions the participants will become associated with upon graduation by instilling in the mentees the importance of "giving back" and the desire to further these efforts.
Effective start/end date12/1/1411/30/19


  • National Science Foundation


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