UTEP awarded a grant of $ 248,000; Will help investigate how research mentors influence the diversity of prospective students

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – Recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a four-year grant of $ 248,000 to the University of Texas at El Paso to study how different undergraduate / mentor research partnerships influence the future diversity of STEM academics.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Danielle Xiaodan Morales, Ph.D., the principal investigator, is among the researchers who will explore collaborations where students and mentors share and do not share the same race, gender or socioeconomic status, and record the influence that has on undergraduates.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is the national host for the research.

According to UTEP, previous studies by Dr. Morales have shown that supervised undergraduate research experiences are effective in increasing the number of minority students who wish to pursue graduate programs and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Since women and other minorities remain underrepresented in faculty, mentors often have different backgrounds than undergraduates.

University officials say this will be the most comprehensive study of its kind Morales has undertaken in the past five years. His early research focused on gender. She followed that up with a study that also looked at ethnicity and other demographics.

She said her previous studies, many of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as those done by others, have shown the pros and cons of working with mentors from the same or different backgrounds. Similar backgrounds add a level of comfort and create a “role model” effect. Different educations give students the opportunity to work with people from different backgrounds. Data from a third research group found that differences in race, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status did not matter if the mentor had good mentoring skills.

“We want to fill this gap in the literature,” Morales said. “This project will give us the opportunity to explore different (areas) – social class, ethnicity. It will certainly be a next step for my research.

Morales’ initial research on this topic as a Principal Investigator was as a postdoctoral fellow with BUILDing SCHOLARS. She commended the program and its director, Lourdes Echegoyen, Ph.D., for how both have influenced her research interests in mentoring.

Echegoyen, associate research professor in chemistry and biochemistry and director of the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI), said Morales’ mentorship research is needed to better understand how nuances such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation as well as socio-economic factors and generation status affect mentor-mentee relationships.

“The results will lead to information on best mentoring practices and the training needs of mentors to ensure student success as we continue to seek an increase in the diversity of the STEM workforce,” Echegoyen said. .

According to Morales, she will use the next few months to build her research team, recruit participants and refine research questions.

She added that she planned to hire two graduate students from UTEP and two undergraduates to help her. At the same time, she will work with collaborators from the University of Utah faculty, who have also pledged to hire UTEP students to help with research.

The Utah collaborators are former UTEP faculty members Sara Grineski, Ph.D., professor of sociology and environmental studies, and Tim Collins, Ph.D., professor of geography.

Morales’ study, “Collaborative Research: Effects of Heterogeneous Mentoring Relationships on Student Outcomes Among NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates,” will begin in the summer of 2022.

To find out more about UTEP and its programs, Click here.

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