Maximizing Mentor Effectiveness in Increasing Student Interest and Success in STEM: An Empirical Approach Employing Robotics Education - Collaborative Research


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This collaborative project is conducting a research study to delineate the effective components of mentoring for underrepresented and non-underrepresented students in STEM, utilizing a robotics educational program.
Project Information
Cohort: 
9 (2011/2012-2014/2015)
Category: 
Research Study
Principal Investigator: 
Maja Mataric
Gary Mayer
Co-Principal Investigator(s): 
Susan Thomas
Sharon Locke
Jerry Weinberg
Stephen Marlette
Sponsor: 
University of Southern California
Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
Primary Focus: 
Engineering
Organization Location City: 
Los Angeles
Organization Location Region/State: 
Pacific
California (CA)
Where project work happens: 
East North Central
Illinois (IL)
Other Area(s) of Focus: 
Engineering
robotics
Participant type: 
Students
Middle School Students
Boys
Girls
Other Participant Type: 
Mentors
Target Area: 
Suburban
Award Number: 
11-39415 and 11-39400
Overview Section

This collaborative project is conducting a research study to delineate the effective components of mentoring for underrepresented and non-underrepresented students in STEM, utilizing a robotics educational program. To understand STEM expectations of success and interests in pursuing STEM careers, it is imperative to understand the achievement-related choices people make when deciding what areas to study and what careers to pursue. If mentoring is to be used to its fullest capacity in increasing students' interest in pursuing STEM careers, it is imperative to delineate what type of mentoring is most effective in increasing STEM self-efficacy and achievement-related choices.

This proposal is addressing the following research questions: "Can a general 'best practices' mentoring approach be effective or is a specific self-efficacy approach needed? Is a combination of the two approaches optimal? In addition, does student ethnicity moderate the impact of the mentoring approaches?" Forty-eight teams of approximately 480 male and female participants represent middle school classes that have not previously participated in robotics or a similar STEM activity. Team mentors are divided into those receiving best-practices mentor training, self-efficacy mentor training, a combination, and no mentor training (control group). All teams participate in a Botball regional robotics competition organized by the KISS Institute for Practical Robotics. Employing a mixed factorial design, the study examines three types of mentor training for their impact on STEM self-efficacy and expectations of success and/or STEM achievement-related choices. The results along with the feedback from mentors will be used to develop a mentor-training package that could be used in all robotics programs and be generalized to other similar STEM activities.

This proposal focuses on students who have not participated in a previous robotics competition and are not 'self-selected' (i.e. have not already voluntarily enrolled in a robotics competition). Therefore, the research will inform the field if the experience itself generated a disposition to pursue STEM without the confounding factor that the participants were already so inclined before the study began.