Reframing the c onversation : faculty mentoring undergraduate women students in engineering



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Women and members of underrepresented populations remain a relatively small proportion of the engineering faculty and students on university campuses. The lack of diversity potentially reduces the number of innovative and diverse perspectives contributing to these fields. One critical area missing in the research literature concerns faculty mentoring of engineering undergraduate women students. This qualitative study explores the narratives of six engineering faculty member mentors, two student affairs practitioners, and three undergraduate women student mentees and their mentoring experiences in a large public research university. Drawing on relevant frameworks from best practices in mentoring and pedagogy, this study will reframe the conversations surrounding faculty mentoring of undergraduate students by utilizing a feminist lens, which seeks to explicitly address the need to create and sustain an inclusive and engaging classroom environment and mentoring relationships. The following research questions guided the study: 1) how do mentors and mentees make meaning and conceptualize the act of mentoring, 2) how are these mentoring relationships situated within the context of the institution in which they are embedded, and 3) what implications emerge for retention and representation of underrepresented students for faculty mentors and student mentees? With this in mind, a feminist lens was useful for expanding the ways in which mentoring is conceptualized and explored because traditional approaches did not effectively explore or capture the benefits received by the participants. The engineering faculty mentor and undergraduate student mentee participants largely formed mentoring relationships informally, often through a connection established in a classroom. Faculty members were purposeful and thoughtful in their pedagogical choices, fostering an engaging and supportive classroom environment. Unlike the research literature, these faculty mentors perceived real benefits from mentoring undergraduate students. In addition, the faculty mentors participating in this study were particularly aware of the challenges and opportunities facing women and underrepresented undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty in engineering.