In the Mentor's Mind: Examining the Experiences of African-American STEM Mentors in Higher Education

Joi-Lynn Mondisa, Purdue University


Research literature exists about African-American mentors and African-American protégés (Brittian, Sy, & Stokes, 2009; Myers, 2007); however there is a gap in research on understanding the individual experiences of exemplar African-American STEM mentors and the relationship between how mentor’s experiences shape their mentoring practices with African-American STEM protégés. Examining the life histories and mentoring experiences of minorities (Snead-McDaniel, 2010) such as African-American science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) mentors may assist in achieving national goals of increasing the numbers of underrepresented populations in STEM fields. The purpose of this dissertation study is to understand and interpret the experiences of select African-American STEM mentors in higher education. The research questions guiding this study are: 1) What are the personal and professional experiences of select African-American STEM mentors who mentor African-American undergraduate protégés in higher education and 2) How do select African-American STEM mentors in higher education describe and explain their mentoring relationships and experiences with their African-American undergraduate protégés? Using an interpretivist paradigm, this study uses theoretical frameworks (situated identity and intersectionality) and conceptual frameworks (learning partnerships, cultural capital, and social capital) to examine the experiences of select African-American STEM mentors. A modified version of Dolbeare and Schuman’s (1982) series of three interviews approach was used to conduct multiple interviews of each participant to map out their stories (Seidman, 2012). Polkinghorne’s (1995) narrative analysis method was used to develop the data into narratives. Ten select African-American STEM PhD mentors were recruited and interviewed at least one and at most two times for a total of 17 interviews. Each participant met a requirement of having earned at least one degree in a STEM field and having: 1) a history of impacting African-American STEM undergraduate students as evidenced by a substantial track record for facilitating undergraduate student success in STEM fields, 2) a history of commitment to mentoring underrepresented minority undergraduates, and 3) national acclamation and/or recognition by their peers and prestigious organizations and institutions as exemplars for their work with mentoring underrepresented minorities. Critical insights about implicit approaches and strategies used in mentoring relationships with African-American protégés emerged from the shared collective experiences of participants. Some major implications of this research is that it offers a language for talking about these experiences which are not captured by existing literature and this information can be used by mentors of any race. Future research might build on this study by examining protégé and mentor/protégé dyad experiences to provide greater insights about mentoring from different perspectives.




Adams, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Social research|Engineering|Higher education

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