2021 CoNECD

Work in Progress: Preparing Graduate Students to Engage in Multicultural Environments

Presented at CoNECD Session : Day 1 Slot 6 Technical Session 3

The need to improve mentoring experiences among engineering graduate students and transform a perceived unwelcoming culture of engineering colleges is widely accepted. In response to this need, the College of Engineering at a large, predominantly-white, research-intensive institution has started an initiative designed to address both of these needs.

This work-in-progress paper aims to discuss one part of this initiative: the development and implementation of a required mentee training seminar for newly matriculating graduate students in engineering degree programs. This one-credit course was designed to help first-year doctoral and master’s students (1) integrate into the university environment, (2) navigate the interpersonal relationships associated with graduate school, (3) prepare for professional success as a student and scholar, and (4) build awareness of diversity and inclusion values. We will discuss some of the early lessons learned from this effort.

Seminar Development Team
A group of three engineering education faculty members is leading this effort, aided by financial and administrative leadership from the College of Engineering as well as an evidence-based curriculum developed by the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER), housed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CIMER is comprised of researchers and practitioners who focus on improving research mentoring relationships among post-secondary researchers. By utilizing these resources, the engineering education faculty members constructed a professional development seminar which will be discussed in detail below.

Seminar Format and Student Learning Outcomes
Seminars were offered to students in three different formats throughout the entire academic year: (1) 5-week course with 2.5 hours sessions once per week; (2) 2-day course with 6-hour sessions each day; and (3) an online version. Class sections in all formats included up to 72 students. Following successful completion of this course, students had strategies for:
Developing effective interpersonal communication skills
Establishing and maintaining professional relationships
Dealing with personal differences in multicultural environments
Advancing equity and inclusion in professional environments
Developing responsible and ethical professional practices
Developing identity, confidence, and independence as a professional

The focus of this paper is to report on our experiences and lessons learned from offering the 5-week course format for the first time. In this format, the course was discussion- and case-based where each session included short lectures to introduce the main ideas, 1-2 activities for students to engage with the content and ended with a debriefing discussion. The topics covered in each session were informed by the previously identified learning outcomes. The course coordinators sought to achieve alignment between intended student learning outcomes and the material covered in class in order to provide the most effective learning opportunities in the small course time frames. Each course offering covered the following:
Topic 1. Building Your Professional Supports
Topic 2. Managing Interpersonal Issues
Topic 3. Navigating Personal Differences
Topic 4. Responding to Pressures
Topic 5. Exhibiting Professional Behaviors

Topic 1 involved aligning mentor and mentee expectations, forming a mentoring and support network, and prioritizing research mentor roles. Topic 2 covered barriers to effective communication and understanding constructive and destructive behaviors. Topic 3 explored setting the stage for inclusive discussions, challenges facing diverse teams, privilege and white fragility, and stereotype threat. Topic 4 covered addressing conflict, feeling overwhelmed, and mental health. Topic 5 closed with responding to feedback, ethics, and navigating sticky situations.

This seminar was offered on a pass/fail basis and students were evaluated based on mandatory attendance and the completion of an end-of-course assignment. In addition to the attendance, students were required to complete a Personal Development Plan as their end-of-course assignment, to be submitted no later than 2 weeks after the conclusion of the course.

The Personal Development Plan was broken into four sections each with two parts. For example, there was Section 1: Research and Learning which focused on developing identity, confidence, and independence as a researcher (LO6). Part A asked students to explore their current career goals, competencies needed to reach these goals, identify activities to acquire these skills, and an assessment plan to track progress. Part B instructed students to graduate school timeline depicting coursework, milestones, and professional activities required for graduation, in addition to outside commitments students expect to have during graduate school and strategies for finding balance across. Each remaining section mapped to one or more of the remaining learning outcomes.

This work-in-progress paper will explore the course material and the first semester’s implementation of a new mentee training seminar for incoming engineering graduate students. We will provide details of pedagogical practices in the classroom, lessons learned, and any planned changes for future offerings.

  1. Teirra K. Holloman Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Education [biography]
  2. Dr. Walter C. Lee Orcid 16x16http://orcid.org/0000-0001-5082-1411 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University [biography]
  3. Dr. Kirsten A. Davis Orcid 16x16http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9929-5587 Purdue University at West Lafayette (COE) [biography]
  4. Dr. Jeremi S. London Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University [biography]
  5. Dr. David B. Knight Orcid 16x16http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4576-2490 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University [biography]
  6. Dr. Tremayne O'Brian Waller Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University [biography]
  7. Dr. John J. Lesko Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University [biography]
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