As part of an NSF RED grant, a peer mentor program was instituted in a medium-sized engineering department in the southeast, to attract and support students through a key transition point in the curriculum between general engineering and entry into the majors. As freshmen, underrepresented minorities and females are supported by the Programs for Educational Enrichment and Retention (PEER) and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). However, these programs do not carry forward as students leave the common first year in General Engineering and move into their respective majors. Through involvement of junior and senior engineering students as peer mentors for incoming sophomore students in the engineering department, the mentoring program provides valuable one-on-one guidance and contributes positively to the engineering community.
The peer mentoring program was formulated to foster interaction role modeling and interdependencies among students. Studies show that such interactions and interdependencies foster students’ positive perceptions of their future selves in the profession (Benson et al., 2015). The peer mentoring program provides the opportunity to create motivational preferences for collaboration, and to foster personal motivation for academic achievement. Specifically, the program sought to determine: the change in students’ attitudes toward peer mentoring activities during their years of engineering study (from mentee to mentor); the ways in which participating in peer mentoring affects students’ satisfaction with program experiences (i.e., transition, belonging, and academic success); and their intent to remain in the program.
At its inception in the first year of the grant, the peer mentor program had seven mentors. Over the past two plus years, the program has grown significantly. Currently there are 25 active mentors, many of who were former mentees. The program is operating on a volunteer basis and credit is not provided to the mentees, so there is a wide range of level of involvement by mentees. Over the last two years, a significant effort has been devoted to enabling mentors to build individual effectiveness, understand the power of critical thinking and communication, and embrace their own ability to lead within the engineering community. Borrowing from the President’s Leadership Institute, the mentor training is designed to support and develop professional and personal leadership within a diverse and inclusive community of engineering students. The mentors are exposed to new ideas and participate in self-analysis and healthy discussion on a myriad of topics including: personal leadership skills, team building, conflict resolution, critical consciousness, diversity and inclusion, advocating, privilege, Title IX, and strategic change.
During the Fall 2018, 112 potential mentees were surveyed by email with a total of 53 responses. Of the 53 responses, 44 students (83%) participated in the program as mentees. Key measurements of the survey assessed the effectiveness of the program in the areas of transition, belonging, and academic success. Overall, the majority felt that the mentor program helped their transition into the engineering program and increased their sense of belonging in the major. While 41% percent of students felt that participation in the program positively contributed to their academic success. This paper provides a detailed description of the program, mentor learning outcomes, lessons learned, and additional programmatic outcomes.
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