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Faculty and Student Perspectives Toward Best Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentoring Programs

Critical Conversations and the Academy
A National Symposium
November 22-23, 2019
University of Miami
Miami, Florida

Andrew Damm, Farmingdale State College
Matthew Edwards, Farmingdale State College
Michael Fraina, Farmingdale State College
Mary Victoria, Farmingdale State College

Introduction

Mentoring is an integral aspect of society and has been defined as “a process in which a more experienced person (i.e., the mentor) serves as a role model, provides guidance and support to a developing novice (i.e., the protégé), and sponsors that individual’s career progress” (Weaver & Chelladurai, 1999, p. 25). Development of mentoring relationships can occur as either a formal assignment through a mentor-mentee dyad or via an informal bond (Hoffmann & Loughead, 2016). One of the critical conversations in the academy examined in this paper relates to the implementation of mentoring programs pertaining to undergraduate student research.

Academic research has broached the topic of mentoring in various areas such as business environments and academic settings. Since the associated presentation focuses upon undergraduate research mentoring programs, it is noteworthy to briefly recognize findings regarding academic mentoring. In the past, mentoring relationships have been attributed to career development and academic outcomes to student mentees (Chun, Sosik, & Yun, 2012). Some of the documented academic results based on mentoring include development of time management skills, establishment of school-athletic balance, and displays of accountability (Chun et al., 2012). Gordon, Iwamoto, Ward, Potts, and Boyd (2009) investigated outcomes of mentoring for Black middle school students in an urban location. In this example, mentees from the Benjamin E. Mays Institute earned an average 8th grade GPA (grade point average) of 2.89. This compared favorably to the 1.06 average GPA of non-mentored students.

Although the research into academic-based research is plentiful, there is a dearth of exploration into undergraduate research and undergraduate research mentoring programs. Undergraduate research mentoring programs are a relatively new phenomenon, and thus further study of this area would be beneficial. Therefore, the purposes of this project are to (a) share faculty and student perspectives about an undergraduate research mentoring program, and (b) stimulate conversation regarding best practices of research mentoring programs. The case study used for this analysis is the Research-Aligned Mentorship (RAM) Program at Farmingdale State College.

In terms of the research that has been conducted into undergraduate research mentoring programs, the results are thus far promising. Conceptually, Linn, Palmer, Baranger, Gerard, and Stone (2015) observed that faculty members can mentor students to elicit ideas, add ideas, distinguish ideas, and reflect. Methods in which mentorship can occur include conference presentations, research articles, grant applications, and potentially other sources of inquiry (Linn et al., 2015). Measurement of one program (i.e., Undergraduate Research Fellows) has uncovered student engagement through mentoring (Ziwoya & Falconer, 2018). Within this program, 84% consented to participate due to the presence of a faculty mentor (Ziwoya & Falconer, 2018). The importance of this growth is put into context by Gonzalez (2001), who stated that the mission of research institutions is to train students to complete research through mentorship.

The following section describes the mission and purpose of the RAM program at Farmingdale State College. Follwing a presentation of this program, this paper will report on faculty and student perspectives of their involvement in the RAM endeavor.

RAM Program

The RAM program has been established to provide undergraduate students with an opportunity to pursue real-world and research opportunities during the course of their education. On an annual basis, 250 first-year students from a variety of academic departments are selected at random to participate in the program. RAM students receive additional benefit,s including individualized advisement based on program, priority class registration, one-credit RAM courses, two meetings with a RAM counselor per semester, a private lounge/work room, invitations to special workshops and events, and hands-on research or a project-based learning experience. Following completion of their two courses (RAM 101 and RAM 102), many students opt to engage in academic research with a faculty member of their selection. Participants in this paper include one faculty member and three undergraduate students from the Sport Management program. To date, the faculty mentor and students have collaborated on a grant application and presentation at two academic conferences (in conjunction with this paper). The remainder of this paper offers perspectives from the faculty mentor and the three students regarding the best practices of undergraduate research mentoring programs in an effort to share experiences with members of similar programs. Please note that this section is based on the experiences of four individuals, and that further research with larger populations is necessary.

Faculty Perspectives

The faculty mentor was approached in Spring 2018 to participate in the RAM program. The mentor met with staff of the RAM program and agreed to serve in a mentorship capacity for students in the Sport Management program. At the RAM Welcome Event, the mentor was introduced to Sport Management students in the program. Immediately, the faculty mentor and undergraduate student mentees began to devise ideas for collaborative projects. Based on the experiences of this faculty mentor, the following three themes are presented as recommendations toward implementation of undergraduate research mentoring programs: (a) A signed contract is necessary toward clarifying expectations. Prior to commencing the research relationship, the faculty mentor signed a contract with each of the mentees, outlining the roles and responsibilities of both parties. This was beneficial to students during their first experiences with research, and helpful to the mentor in terms of clarifying their expectations. (b) The faculty advisor must guide the student mentees throughout the research process. For the students in this partnership, this was their first opportunity to contribute to a grant application and present research at an academic conference. It is the responsibility of the mentor to explain and share examples of locating peer-reviewed sources, writing a review of literature, and preparing an academic study. In this instance, the faculty mentor chose to meet in-person with the mentees. Depending on the amount of mentees, e-mail communication should also be suitable. (c) Consistent communication is essential toward achieving goals. Expanding on the previous point, the mentor has found that research collaborations are effective to the point in which communication exists. By encouraging at least one physical meeting per semester, the mentor has observed that all members of the mentor-mentee group are accountable and dedicated to the tasks. Beyond the perspectives of the faculty mentor, this project includes reflection from the three undergraduate student mentees.

Student Perspectives

In preparation for this presentation and paper, the mentor sought the opinions of the student mentees related to their experiences. Five themes emerged from the participants’ contributions to their mentor’s research pursuits and general involvement in the RAM program: (a) Introduction to the research process. Simply put, student mentees appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to academic research by RAM staff and their faculty mentor. All student participants noted that had they not been a part of the RAM program, they likely would not have pursued undergraduate research. (b) Guidance throughout the research process. Student mentees espoused the benefits of RAM 101 and RAM 102 toward explaining the value of undergraduate student research. Furthermore, they benefitted from the advice and recommendations of their faculty advisor in regards to the research process. Effectively, the student mentees realized that they had a strong support system as they began their journey into academic research. (c) Personal growth. The student mentees involved in this project admitted that they faced new challenges by virtue of participation in the RAM program. The process of academic research invoked new obstacles such as learning how to locate, decipher, and cite literature. Interestingly, the students explained that these newfound challenges afforded them the opportunity for personal growth and the chance to develop characteristics that will aid them in their careers. The process of self-exploration was an unexpected and beneficial aspect for the students. One of the students commented that the RAM program and hands-on research with a faculty mentor provided them with the motivation and confidence to pursue graduate studies. This student continued that the research practicums were a valuable complement to traditional courses in this area. (d) Industry-applicable experience. These student mentees from the RAM program reported that their inclusion promoted new opportunities within their field of study (i.e., Sport Management). Some of these benefits included increased awareness of practical issues within the sport industry and networking potential with sport managers. In particular, mentees honed their awareness of mental health issues through the grant application and evaluated the impact of sport gambling in the conference presentation. (e) Assistance with the college transition process. Lastly, the student mentees involved in this project suggested that their membership in the RAM program eased their transition into the college environment. In particular, the students noted that priority scheduling was a major benefit of the RAM program. The following quote from one of the students adequately addresses the benefits of their participation in the RAM program: “My experience with the RAM program has been very positive. Working with Dr. Fraina has taught me a lot within the Field of Sports Management and the research process. I have even learned more about myself during this experience. I have learned and personally experienced how tedious the research process can be when trying to select articles for support, but making sure they are appropriate and scholarly.”

Discussion

Among the critical conversations in the academy is the discussion of how to best facilitate undergraduate research mentoring programs. The concept of encouraging and supporting undergraduate research is relatively new, and academic research into the viability of these programs is lacking. The authors of this presentation and paper sincerely hope that their shared experiences are beneficial to other institutions who have introduced similar types of programs. Furthermore, we recommend further inquiry into this important area.

 

 
 

References

Chun, J.U., Sosik, J.J., & Yun, N.Y. (2012). A longitudinal study of mentor and protege outcomes in formal mentoring relationships. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33 (8), 1071-1094.

Gonzalez, C. (2001). Undergraduate research, graduate mentoring, and the university’s mission. Science, 293 (5535), 1624-2626.

Gordon, D.M., Iwamoto, D.K., Ward, N., Potts, R., & Boyd, E. (2009). Mentoring urban black middle school male students: Implications for academic achievement. The Journal of Negro Education, 78(3), 277-289.

Hoffmann, M.D., & Loughead, T.M. (2016). A comparison of well-peer mentored and non-peer mentored athletes’ perceptions of satisfaction. Journal of Sports Sciences, 6(13), 1-9.

Linn, M.C., Palmer, E., Baranger, A., Gerard, E., & Stone, E. (2015). Undergraduate research experiences: Impacts and opportunities. Science, 347(6222), 627-635.

Weaver, M.A., & Chelladurai, P. (1999). A mentoring model for management in sport and physical education. Quest, 51(1), 24-38.

Ziwoya, F., & Falconer, J. (2018). Designing mentorship: Exploring the challenges and benefits of undergraduate research. College Student Journal, 52(4), 532-539.