A strong Computer Science (CS) identity increases retention in the field, and promoting the establishment of such an identity in underrepresented (UR) students - including women and Black, Latinx, and Native American individuals - is a crucial component of any successful attempt to diversify the field. Exposure to relatable role models can contribute to the development of professional identity, and has been shown to increase student achievement and persistence in STEM. However, for most UR students in Computer Science courses, finding role models with whom they can identify amongst more senior students can be challenging, given the low enrollment and retention numbers for UR CS students. In addition, many UR students have few people in their personal networks who work in CS, making it difficult to identify professional role models, as well. With the goal of promoting the development of CS identity in UR students, a novel, NSF-funded CS program has incorporated a peer mentoring program into their education model. This peer mentoring program simultaneously provides academic support and creates relatable role models for students.
The proposed paper will outline the ways that mentors are used within the program and discuss the results from qualitative research efforts that offer insight into the impact of this mentoring, for both the mentors and for the students they support. These qualitative results describe the mutual benefits of mentorship and underscore the importance of interpersonal relationships and community in the formation of professional identity for UR students. The discussion section will outline the lessons learned during the last four years of the mentoring program’s implementation, detailing effective mentor training strategies, methods for nurturing positive mentor-mentee relationships, attributes of successful mentors, and the important role of program alumni in the mentoring model.
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