This complete research paper addresses the perceptions of undergraduate engineering students during the onset of the worldwide pandemic (COVID-19) in an engineering college at a western institution of the United States. Specifically, these students were asked about their perceived needs around peer mentorship amidst pivoting between hybrid and in-person learning at the onset of COVID-19.
Mentorship is defined as the interaction between two individuals whose goal is to help one another in psychosocial matters, support personal and professional growth, and provide career guidance. Generally, there are two main types of mentorships recognized: traditional and peer. Traditional mentorship involves a mentor who may be older, has much more experience, or holds a power differential when compared to the mentee. Peer mentorship is a relationship between two persons who are at approximately the same personal, professional, or educational stages (with one who may have slightly more experience). Peer mentorship has been shown to address both psychosocial and academic career support needs even though the individuals are at similar stages. Since these near-peers or step-ahead (i.e., mentors who are at the same or just slightly ahead in their development) mentors have recently been in the same situation as the mentee, there is a level of mutuality and interpersonal comfort built, allowing for both the mentor and mentee to benefit from the peer relationship, which may not be present in traditional mentorships.
Peer mentorship generally has positive outcomes for both the mentor and mentee, especially for underrepresented and first-year students, specifically with regards to retention, persistence, and student experience. Despite this, peer mentorship is an often-overlooked resource for student support and success. Yet, peer mentoring may afford sustainable and economical ways to support students in their undergraduate programs while lessening the loads that many administrators, faculty, and staff juggle in their everyday academic responsibilities. From a solely retention standpoint, it is known that the first years of undergraduate engineering education is a pivotal time when many students leave engineering.
According to the literature, introducing mentoring during the first year of a college education has been found to be effective at increasing both recruitment and retention in STEM fields. For example, Dennehy and Dasgupta found that undergraduate women in engineering majors having a same-gender peer mentor early in their education promoted retention and academic success. Freshman in engineering at the University of Arkansas who participated in a peer mentorship program were significantly more likely to return to campus after their first semester, and they also yielded a higher GPA than non-mentored students. Sanchez et al. found that those students who had peer mentors as a first-year student were overall more satisfied with their institution and had stronger intentions of persisting. However, all the aforementioned studies occurred in-person.
While virtual peer mentoring programs are beginning to be explored in engineering, evaluation of student perceptions of their mentoring needs prior to beginning these campus initiatives are lacking. Even before COVID-19, scholarly research reported that feelings of isolation are common in virtual education situations, even for students that may be on-campus and taking fully or partially online courses; this was especially evident during COVID-19 where almost all students transitioned to emergency hybrid learning (EHL) situations and faced the challenge of distancing and isolation. The chain of events and lessons learned during the onset of COVID-19 set an important stage to situate students’ perceived mentoring needs for hybrid and fully online learning environments. As such, understanding these perceived needs before starting virtual mentoring programs will be important as the trends indicate an increasing demand for more accommodating learning and mentoring environments to more flexibly support students’ feelings of isolation, socialization experiences, learning gains, and equitable educational experiences.
As part of a larger mixed-methods dissertation study by Christensen that took place during the Fall of 2020, 223 undergraduate engineering students shared perceptions about their needs with regards to peer mentorship during the early onset of EHL in COVID-19. The focus of this study is a secondary analysis of those student perceptions of peer mentoring needs. This analysis resulted in the development of four recommendations to support implementation of hybrid or fully online peer mentoring efforts, namely normalizing the integration of hybrid peer mentoring options, providing opportunities early and continually, talking about it often, and providing a variety of informal and formal opportunities.
2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
Christensen, D., & Villanueva, I., (2022, August). What do undergraduate engineering students at the onset of emergency hybrid learning during COVID-19 say about peer mentorship? Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN. https://peer.asee.org/41210
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© 2022 American Society for Engineering Education.
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