The Intersecting Perspective: African American Female Experiences with Faculty Mentoring in Undergraduate Engineering

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Virginia Tech

The value of diversity in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields has long been a leading topic of discussion among campus administrators and government officials. However, the number of African American women in STEM, and the engineering field in particular, has seen little growth over the past twenty years. To change this trend, there must be enhanced efforts to provide an environment and resources to support the retention of these women, and mentoring can play a key role. To gain a better understanding of the mentoring needs of these women, this research investigates the mentoring experiences of 16 current senior African American female engineering students.

What is clear is that African American women have a unique set of experiences based on the multiple sets of identity groups that they claim membership in. Intersectionality emphasizes the implications of the multiplication of these identities and how that multiplication impacts experiences. This research, addresses the intersection by exploring faculty mentoring relationships, with particular focus on the implications of having a matched (same race and gender) or an unmatched mentor. Current research is inconsistent on the benefits of each type.

Using phenomenography, this investigation of the various aspects of mentoring relationships that are salient to 16 African American women in engineering uncovered seven categories of mentoring: Guide, Proactive Supporter, Reactive Listener, Nurturer, Just in Time, Caring, and Role Model. Variation across these mentoring categories were reflected in the mentoring aspects that participants perceived. This set of interpersonal (listen, invested, and shared experience) and professional (development, opportunity, advice, and example) aspects depicted a set of mentoring types that varied in comprehensiveness. Additionally, variation in the race and gender of each mentor across each category suggested some trends surrounding the mentor characteristics that most frequently provided certain aspects. However, all of the categories that emerged were perceived to be effective. It is desired that the results of this research will impact the ways in which faculty understand the needs of African American women in engineering.

Mentoring, African American Female Students, Engineering Education, Phenomenography, Intersectionality