Personal experience of the authors and multiple prior works (Collins et al., 2020; Fouad et al., 2016) have shown that gender minorities in engineering graduate school experience microaggressions, stereotype threat, and imposter syndrome. The transition from undergraduate to graduate education is considered one of three critical points in a woman’s engineering career, defined as a time when significant numbers of women leave the field (Betz, 1994). The present work hypothesizes that a targeted, year-long orientation program in the first year of graduate education can improve success of gender minorities in engineering graduate school, where success is defined both emotionally and professionally, through three main intervention strategies. The orientation program should provide opportunities to build a cohort or feeling of community within the engineering gender minority members, learn successful strategies from older graduate students for success in graduate school, and learn about resources for professional development within graduate school. The present work implements such a program and studies the impact of the program on the graduate population at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).
The GrOW (Graduate Orientation for Women and gender minorities in engineering) initiative at UIUC is led by a team of graduate students and a faculty mentor (authors). The project comprises of 7 events spanning the Fall’22-Spring’23 semesters, and are specifically catered to first-year graduate students identifying as any of the minority genders in engineering (cis-women, transgender, non-binary, etc). The impact of these events on student success is assessed through three anonymous surveys that contain both self-reflection questions and quantitative questions to evaluate "success". The self-reflection questions judge adjustment to graduate school and feelings of belonging and self-worth using a 5-point Likert scale. The qualitative questions gather metrics such as GPA, number of publications, and fellowships earned. A control group, consisting of graduate women who have not participated in any of the GrOW events, will also be given two of these surveys. The following outcomes will be reported on in the paper and presentation. (i) Analysis of the impact of an orientation program for graduate women in engineering (ii) Comparison of results to existing similar programs for undergraduate students (iii) Lessons learned along the way of this students-lead initiative (iv) Recommendations for future endeavors.
To date, 3 out of the 7 planned events have been held and were attended by a total of 115 new graduate students. 1 out of 3 surveys have been circulated to the attendees. 70% of the survey participants agreed that they were anxious about graduate school, 96% felt that GrOW helped them feel welcome at the university, and 100% agreed that they supported the continuation of GrOW for the benefit of future graduate gender minorities in the engineering college.
The GrOW initiative and this research are funded by the Institute for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access (IDEA) GIANT grant and IBM-Illinois Discovery Accelerator (IIDA) Institutes at UIUC. IRB approval has been obtained (#23254).
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