An exploratory study of the research mentor experience in a novel undergraduate aerospace engineering course

Irene B. Mena, Sven Schmitz

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

3 Scopus citations


This study looks at the experiences of seven graduate/postdoctoral research mentors in a novel aerospace engineering course that introduced undergraduate students to research at a mid- Atlantic research University. In this course, groups of (typically) three undergraduate students were mentored by one graduate student. The undergraduate students worked with and were led by these research mentors in various aerospace engineering research projects. In many cases, the undergraduate students were working on a project related to the research mentors' theses or research work. Previous studies looking at the undergraduate research experience do so from the undergraduate students' perspectives; this paper focuses on this experience from the research mentors' perspectives. In this paper, the experiences of seven research mentors who were involved with the course in the fall 2011 and spring 2012 semesters are described. The paper answers the following research questions: (1) What benefits result from being a research mentor? and (2) In what ways does being a research mentor prepare graduate students for their future careers? Data were collected via individual interviews with the research mentors at the end of each semester. Using situated learning as the theoretical framework, the data were analyzed to determine themes that characterized the research mentor experience. The theory of situated learning was used to identify and inform the ways in which being research mentors can prepare the mentors for their future careers, specifically in terms of how they are prepared to become members of the communities of practice they aspire to join. The benefits for research mentors were classified as follows: (1) benefits related to preparation for their future careers, such as strengthening their technical skills and content knowledge, and developing and improving various professional skills, and (2) benefits related to their current positions as students/postdoctoral scholars, such as receiving help with their theses or research projects. This study is part of a longer-term study to determine the effectiveness of this aerospace engineering course, both in terms of the undergraduate students' learning experiences, and in terms of the graduate students' professional development. The results shared in this paper can be useful to universities, departments, and faculty members who: (1) are interested in graduate student professional development, and (2) would like to learn about a novel way to involve graduate students in undergraduate courses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - 2013
Event120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Atlanta, GA, United States
Duration: Jun 23 2013Jun 26 2013


Other120th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAtlanta, GA

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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