JUNE 1, 2020 — Researchers from UTSA and the University of Kansas have launched a study to investigate the life and academic challenges that STEM faculty and students around the U.S. are facing—particularly in their mentor-mentee relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Guan Saw, an assistant professor of educational psychology in UTSA’s College of Education and Human Development, will co-lead the new project with Chi-Ning Chang of the University of Kansas. Support in the form of a $153,899 Rapid Response Research grant from the National Science Foundation, using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, will help fund their research.
The project will examine how the change from in-person communication to electronic communication has shifted mentorships between faculty and students in STEM fields.
“In the past few months—because of the coronavirus—how the crisis impacted teaching and research in higher education has been widely discussed,” Saw said. “However, there is one important missing piece that no one is talking about: mentoring. It’s a critical component between many faculty and students, especially in STEM areas. How is our faculty doing with student mentoring using electronic communication? How do our students perceive the communication and support from their faculty mentor through e-mentoring?”
The researchers will launch two national surveys and conduct virtual interviews to collect data that will focus on instrumental and psychological support, the challenges and adjustments in mentoring among STEM faculty and students, and how faculty-student mentoring plays a role in shaping student outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our study focuses on two key concepts for understanding faculty-student mentoring. One is instrumental support, looking at how faculty support students’ academic learning, professional development, and career preparation,” Saw said. “The other is psychosocial support, where the relationship between mentor and mentee develop and it has a more positive psychological and emotional impact.”
The project, which aims to survey about 1,200 faculty and students, will be the first electronic mentoring study on a large scale.
“Prior e-mentoring studies in higher education tend to be at a smaller scale, focusing on samples from one or a limited number of institutions,” Saw said. “Our national samples with theory-driven measures will generate theoretical and empirical insights that can move the research field forward, specifically in the areas of mentoring, STEM education, electronic communication and crisis responses.”
During their project the researchers will also assess the impact COVID-19 has had on the faculty’s teaching and research and their well-being as well as on students’ academic, career and mental health outcomes.
“Our study will also explore how faculty and students perceive the risk of coronavirus disease and their attitudes toward university reopening and future plans,” Saw said. “Do they prefer in-person or online class and mentoring sessions, or a mix of both? What factors are associated with students’ intention to continue enrolling in the fall semester? Do students expect to delay their graduation?”
⇒ Learn more about Guan Saw and his research at UTSA.
This study also will pay special attention to faculty and students from underrepresented backgrounds, specifically those who are women, racial and ethnic minorities, and first-generation college students, Saw added.
“Underrepresented faculty and students in STEM fields tend to encounter more barriers and have fewer resources in their academic and career pursuits. So we want to know what particular challenges the experience and what additional support they receive during this COVID-19 crisis,” Saw said. “Our study will oversample faculty and students in minority-serving institutions, including Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”
Saw and Chang were awarded the grant through the NSF’s EHR Core Research program in the Division of Graduate Education/Directorate of Education and Human Resources, using funds from the CARES Act.
“Receiving this grant means a lot to my research team. We have seen the COVID-19 crisis unfolding and there’s a lot to deal with for all of us. As a researcher, I want to contribute my skills and knowledge to address some of the challenges presented by this crisis,” Saw said. “With this NSF RAPID grant, several undergraduate and graduate students at UTSA and KU will be financially supported to learn and help implement this impactful research study that will have broader impacts in supporting STEM faculty and students in these uncertain and challenging times.”
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