Mentoring Perceptions and Experiences of Minority Students Participating in Summer Research Opportunity Programs

Article excerpt

Abstract

Literature has documented the underrepresentation of minority students in higher education and the importance of mentoring programs in retaining these students in the academy. This study examines the perceptions of mentoring and actual mentoring experiences of minority students participating in two Summer Research Opportunity Programs (SROPs) at Iowa State University. Seven mentoring functions (Clarity of Project, Challenging Assignment, Training, Contact, Assistance, Feedback and Role Modeling) were identified through the literature as being important in the mentoring relationship. Findings indicated that the students' mentoring experience was better than expected, but students also noted that mentors should devote more attention to the Clarity of Project, Training, Contact and Role Modeling functions. The findings of this study reinforce the importance of mentoring in SROPs. Implications for practice and recommendations for future research are also discussed.

Introduction

A major component of many Summer Research Opportunity Programs (SROPs) is the role of mentors (Gaffney, 1995; Kinkead, 2003). Under the guidance of a mentor, undergraduate research is seen as a scholarly activity that helps to promote scientific inquiry, experiential learning, scholarship, career development among other functions (Kinkead, 2003). Currently more attention is being paid to the mentoring that takes place for undergraduates as a way to recruit and increase retention levels of minority students in various fields; and as a tool of enrichment of the overall undergraduate experience (Jacobi, 1991).

Mentoring is a key component of most SROPs, especially programs that are aimed at increasing the presence of women and minority students in, science, technology, engineering, agriculture, and mathematics (STEAM) fields. Historically, women and minority students have not been exposed to STEAM fields as the choice of a major in college, and as a career to pursue upon graduation (Gale, 2002; Lease, 2004). There is substantial underrepresentation of minority students in STEAM and other technical fields which can be attributed to several factors, one being the lack of mentors that minority students see in these fields where traditionally there has been little representation of minorities (Gale, 2002; Lease, 2004). The majority of students that participate in SROPs happen to be students from minority serving institutions, and it is through SROPs that these students are exposed to more educational and career opportunities that they otherwise might not have known existed (Crawford et al., 1996). Because of the low rate at which minority students enter graduate school and pursue advanced degrees, several authors have examined the impact of mentoring on their educational and career goals (see Crawford et al., 1996; Tenenbaum et al., 2001; Thomas et al., 2007). These studies have documented an increase in retention and persistence among minority students to pursue advanced degrees, and remain in the academy when mentoring is made available to them as compared to students who may not have had a mentor (Crawford et al., 1996). Several benefits have been attributed to the mentoring of undergraduates including the enhancement of the educational experience and providing guidance related to career options (Chopin, 2002; Lopatto, 2007). Undergraduates who have an opportunity to participate in research with a faculty mentor are able to take the theory that they have learned or read about and put it into practice, as well as to reflect on the positive and negative aspects of the experience. Through this process, students are able to "do science,"' which entails being able to understand a research problem and determining what is needed to address the problem (Kardash, 2000).

Lease (2004) suggests that African Americans and other minority students usually have less information about educational and vocational options because they may not have been exposed to these opportunities, or had a mentor or role model to guide them in that proce ss. …