The Design, Development, and Efficacy of the Virtual Training of Peer Mentors to Broaden Women’s and Minorities’ STEM Participation

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

The participants will discuss noy only why training for eMentoring is important to improve underrepresented minority women students’ STEM self-efficacy and mentorship skills but also design and development considerations for developing mentoring training online. Participants will also learn about the efficacy of the eMentoring training through presentation of quantitative and qualitative findings from a pilot study.   


Dr. Rockinson-Szapkiw has a B.A. in Elementary Education, M.A. in Counseling, Ed.D. in Distance Education with a focus on instructional design and technology in higher education and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. She is currently an Associate Professor within an instructional design and technology program at the University of Memphis and coordinates the EdD program. Dr. Rockinson-Szapkiw has authored and co-authored more than three dozen peer-reviewed journal articles and presented and co-presented over 50 professional presentations nationally and internationally, with scholarship primarily focusing on distance education and technology integration in the higher education classroom to improve national and international student success, namely persistence.

Extended Abstract

Two historically black institutions, University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and Virginia State University (VSU), and one public, predominately white institution with a large minority population, University of Memphis partnered to develop, implement, and evaluate a blended (e.g. face-to-face and virtual) science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) peer mentorship program to assist women, minority undergraduate students in developing their career self-efficacy in STEM and to improve their persistence and intent to graduate from a STEM program and, ultimately, pursue a job in STEM. In this project, women, minority graduate students will mentor undergraduate students both face-to-face and virtually; thus, a secondary aim is to build graduate students’ mentorship skills and inspire their persistence in STEM. While all minorities may participate in this project, the project is primarily aimed at underrepresented minority women in STEM programs. The overarching goal of this project is to pilot and assess the effectiveness of a blended (i.e. face-to-face and virtual) STEM peer mentorship program to support the success and persistence of underrepresented minority women in STEM degrees and to broaden participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. This presentation will focus on one element of the overall program, the eMentorship training for the mentors. 

As noted in the literature, mentoring is cited again and again as an essential element in the growth and development of individuals, both male and women, in any discipline (Galbraith & Cohen, 1995). Mentoring has also been cited as an important element in assisting women in advancing progress in and increasing influence in male dominated fields (Hill et al., 2010; Bova, 1995) such as STEM. However, to ensure that the mentoring relationship is effective, it is important that the mentor develop skills and understand the function of the mentor role and relationship with the mentee (Galbraith & Cohen, 1995). Thus, providing graduate students with formal training and experience for building mentorship competency so that they can effectively mentor undergraduate students and can develop skills relevant to the workplace is a component of this program. 

Among first-year college students, women are much less likely than men to intend to persist in STEM. At the time of undergraduate graduation, men outnumber women in almost every science and engineering degree. In some disciplines women only earn approximately 20% of the degrees, and their representation in graduate school and in the transition into the workforce are even grimmer (NSF, 2015). Minority women, on the other hand, experience greater challenges with the NSF reporting that the number of minority women earning science and engineering degrees has experienced only modest growth since 1998 and, in some cases, has actually declined (NSF, 2015). Women are often modest about their STEM ability and achievement, and a “confidence gap” in STEM exists between sexes (Hill, et al., 2010; Sadker & Sadker, 1994). Males are more confident than women in their STEM abilities. Eccles (1994) noted that this gap is partially responsible for the lack of women, especially minorities, pursuing and persisting in STEM college courses and careers, which has been further supported by current research (Hill et al., 2010).  In other words, women minorities often do not have the belief in their abilities to perform well in STEM; that is, they lack self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy affects goal choices, effort and motivation to reach a goal, and persistence toward the goal when challenges arise (Bandura, 1997). Thus, women of color with high STEM career self-efficacy are more likely to perform better and persist longer in STEM programs and careers compared to those with low STEM career self-efficacy.  Bandura (1997) proposed that four factors influence self-efficacy, including mastery experience, vicarious experience, social persuasion, and psychological responses. Researchers have demonstrated that while mastery experience is most influential in boys and men’s STEM career self-efficacy, the most influential factors for girls’ and women’s STEM career self-efficacy are vicarious experience and social persuasion (Zeldin & Pajares, 2000).

Thus, women need opportunities to observe more advanced students and role models in STEM (e.g. vicarious experiences) so they can envision themselves being successful (Hill et al., 2010). When women students can not envision themselves as professionals in their chosen fields because the necessary role models and structured supports within their academic programs are lacking, they do not persist (Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Rockinson-Szapkiw, Spaulding, & Lunde, 2017). They also need opportunities to receive positive feedback and encouragement from influential others (e.g., social persuasion).

The literature supports the importance of women of color finding and obtaining mentors to serve as sponsors, providing resources, advice, personal and professional support, and networking opportunities (Hill, 2016; Hill et al., 2010). Universities need to find ways to encourage communities of research and practice among women students to increase opportunities for social and academic integration, factors associated with persistence (Tinto, 1993).  Rockinson-Szapkiw, et al. (2017) recognized that “the culture of higher education is dominated by androcentric values, which makes it difficult for women, in any discipline at any level of education, who are “relationally-oriented” and “emotionally-attuned” to gain the type of relational and affective support needed for success.” As noted by Lave and Wenger (1991), the process of professional socialization, in which a novice moves into full membership in the community, requires that the student take part in the authentic practices of that community, thus reiterating the need for opportunities to establish mentorship collaborations that support those underrepresented in such communities. Thus, in order to provide mentorship opportunities for undergraduate students, graduate students for this project are trained via virtual mentorship modules.

To ensure that the mentoring relationship is effective, it is important that the mentor develop skills and understand the function of the mentor (Galbraith & Cohen, 1995). Thus, providing graduate students with formal training and experience for building mentorship competency so that they can effectively mentor undergraduate students and can develop skills relevant to the workplace is essential. For graduate students to gain valuable mentorship skills, an e-Mentorship training was developed.  Graduate students complete 10-15 hours of formalized instruction on mentorship covering six mentor functions: (1) Relationship emphasis, (2) Information emphasis, (3) Facilitative focus, (4) Confrontational focus, (5) Mentor model, and (6) Mentee vision. One module also provides practical technology skills on how to use Google tools (e.g. Google+ communities, Google Hangout, etc.) to facilitate collaboration in mentorship. The formalized instruction occurs via seven asynchronous, adaptive learning, virtual modules.

The modules are developed using free, open source authoring tools and hosted via Google sites, making them accessible to the scholarly community. There are a number of factors that contributed to the design and development of the e-learning modules, including consideration of the “whole student.” Matteson (2014, p. 862) purported that the ideal learning experience considers the “whole student,” addressing learners’ cognitive, emotional, and social characteristics, integrating emotional and cognitive awareness with content. Similarly, Illeris (2009, 2015), in his Moving Toward Wholeness: A Comprehensive Model of Learning, suggested that learning is the interaction among content (i.e. knowledge, skills, behavior, competencies), incentive (i.e. emotion and violation that drives learning), and interaction with the environment. Thus, each module is developed to contain three primary sections: 1) Topical Discussion-The topical discussion provides an overview of the research on the function; 2) Case Study-The case application section takes each function and demonstrates provides a relevant scenario illustrating application of the function; and 3) Personal Application-The application section provides a series of questions for personal reflection. By engaging with content in the topical discussion, the student develops the knowledge, skills, and ability to mentor. The case study marshals the students’ motivation, emotion, and volition by presenting relevant emotional and social scenarios and practical application. The development of emotional intelligence is also taken into consideration (Kalyuga, 2010;  Kousta, Vigliocco, Vinson, Andrews, & Del Campo, 2011). Through personal application and social activities via a community forum, and then ultimately the mentorship experience, the student integrates. In consideration of cognitive theories (Mayer, 2009; Moreno & Park, 2010), the text, images, animation, audio, and video content of the modules are designed to minimize cognitive load. Thus, first person and a conversational tone is used. Content is carefully chucked. All narration includes relevant imagery while still considering learner accessibility where students are provided with text for all narration. Moreover, the modules contain visual and verbal cues to organize content. Finally, students are given some control of content as the modules have search and navigation features to enhance user control.

The overall funded project supports underrepresented minority women students enrolled in STEM programs to 1) aid their self-efficacy, 2) facilitate their success in the STEM degree and workplace, and, therefore, 3) help increase the number of women completing STEM degrees and entering the STEM workforce. Importantly, this project is aimed towards developing a STEM peer mentorship model to inform and facilitate revision and future funding requests for upscaling to reach a broader community of underrepresented, women STEM students among HBCUs as well as predominately white institutions that serve large minority populations.  This presentation focuses on the rational, design, and development of one element of the overall project- the eMentoring modules that train graduate students for peer or near peer mentoring. The participants of the presentation will learn not only why training for mentorship is important but also design and development considerations for developing this training in an online medium. Importantly, the participants of the presentation will also learn how key principles for training graduate students for mentorship roles can be applied in the blended learning environment.

Moreover, the qualitative and quantitative findings from a pilot study that demonstrate how underrepresented minority women students completing the STEM eMentoring modules developed 1) self-efficacy and 2) leadership skills, thus, promoting   their success in the STEM degree and workplace, and, therefore help increase the number of women completing STEM degrees and entering the STEM workforce, will be presented. Specific attention will be given to the results that focused on the online nature of the modules and how this assisted with self-efficacy will be a focus.