The 2018 Graduate STEM Education for the 21st Century report calls for a transformation from the current STEM graduate education to a system that is 1) student-centered, 2) provide diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments; 3) support graduate student mental health; 4) provides core competencies; and 5) allows for career exploration. One reason for the need for change is the STEM graduate education is not meeting the needs of students from all backgrounds, especially students from underrepresented groups. The Preparing Engineering Graduate Students for the 21st Century (PEGS21) at UC Davis is an NSF-funded S-STEM program targeting graduate student applicants who are academically talented, low-income and/or first generation. Through a cohort-building seminar, multi-pronged mentoring activities, and a stipend to ease the transition, this student-centered program supports about 15 first-year graduate students each year in an attempt to increase retention of students from underrepresented groups. A critical component of the program are professional development workshops and seminars in which PEGS21 scholars participate in their first year. After three years, program researchers are noticing trends among which types of seminars and workshops are most beneficial to first-year students. While the program organizes a weekly seminar series, additional workshops are offered through the university’s GradPathways program. PEGS21 scholars are required to attend six workshops (2 per quarter) in their first year. Workshops and seminar topics range from proactive mentoring to impostor syndrome to improving communication skills with improv.
In this paper, the authors will provide a brief introduction of the PEGS21 program, assessment methods used by the program, and lessons learned about effective professional development of students. Using survey data, student written workshop reflections and focus groups of former PEGS21 scholars, the authors will identify which workshops are valuable to our targeted graduate student and why and how. The paper will further explore how the workshop intersect with common barriers to graduate school retention for students from underrepresented groups (e.g., living in two worlds, knowing the rules, and seeking support). With this knowledge, other programs will be able to start similar student-centered programs that can help transform the graduate STEM education system.
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