Professor Angela Bielefeldt is starting a new research project that examines how mentoring and identity relate to retention among STEM majors in college. The work is funded by CU’s Research & Innovation Office Seed Grant program and is in partnership with the School of Education.
Bielefeldt, who is based in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering and is also the director of the Engineering Plus program, said most of her previous engineering education research has been focused on ethics, social responsibility, sustainability, and leadership education. This new project has a different focus.
“This is the first time my research will explicitly examine mentoring and identity. As undergraduate students serve as mentors, they may be increasing their own STEM identity, which in turn should increase their retention in STEM majors in college. This may be particularly important and impactful for students underrepresented in STEM who, research indicates, may have less developed STEM identities when they start college,” she said.
This work will explore several areas, including the various levels where mentoring happens and how teacher roles differ or overlap with mentor roles. She added that this research also extends into K-12 education.
“The seed grant will start these explorations, with a goal to catalyze a larger research effort. In the future, our findings can be applied by programs to be more effective in fostering mentoring interactions,” Bielefeldt said.
Bielefeldt’s partner for the project is Professor and Learning Assistant Program Executive Director Valerie Otero. This is their first collaboration and the first time Bielefeldt has worked with someone from the School of Education at CU Boulder.
The Learning Assistant Program helps form much of the basis for the work. In it, undergraduate learning assistants facilitate discussions among groups of students in a variety of classroom settings that encourage active engagement. At CU Boulder, advanced assistants mentor first-timers and are supported by the faculty and staff coordinators, Bielefeldt said.
“It is an amazing program–both for the students serving as LAs and the students they help succeed.” said Bielefeldt. “I am interested to see what elements of mentoring in the LA program may be transferable into K-12 settings. In addition, each STEM discipline is unique. I have been exploring differences among civil, environmental and mechanical engineering, for example. It will be interesting to become more aware of similarities and differences with physics, which is Professor Otero’s expertise.”
This is the first seed grant award from the Research & Innovation Office that Bielefeldt has received. She said it would support a graduate-student researcher working toward her PhD in environmental engineering.
“There will also be an undergraduate student on the team from the education side. This type of research in particular benefits from multiple perspectives and insights,” she said.
The 2020 Research & Innovation Seed Grants funded 25 proposals for up to $50,000 each, including a new CU Boulder Grand Challenge project. Since 2008, the program has provided more than $13 million to fund 304 innovative projects across campus.