NSF-AIRE at Reed
Search
Reed Home
Mentor Program
Science at Reed
Outreach
Assessment
Participating Departments
NSF-AIRE Home
Other Resources
Student Theses
Department Grants
 
 
Psychology
Biology   Chemistry   Physics   Psychology
 

Psychology

In the Psychology Department, eight students worked with a total of five faculty members on the Undergraduate Research Mentoring program during the summer of 1999 and the 1999-2000 school year. As assistants in both Introductory Psychology and advanced courses, the student mentors performed a variety of jobs. These jobs included one-on-one or group tutoring of students regarding course content, advising students in planning and carrying out independent research projects, helping faculty to design and pilot experiments for use in course labs, providing technology/resource support for computer or laboratory equipment, and serving as laboratory and classroom assistants. Student mentors also worked with students in four different courses (with class sizes ranging from 9 to 29) and with five senior thesis students in the Psychology Department. To prepare for these jobs, student mentors participated in summer training which included collaborating with faculty to plan and conduct summer research, updating course materials, designing course experiments and lessons, and increasing expertise in areas such as statistics, computer programming, laboratory technique, and research skills.

 

The role of the student mentor at Reed differs in important respects from that of the graduate teaching assistant in the large university. Mentors are far more likely to interact with their students on a one-to-one basis than are university T.A.'s who are responsible, to varying degrees for far more students. The content of these interactions tend to differ as well, in that the former are more often concerned with teaching, experimental design, statistical analysis of data, and the written presentation of research findings in the style of professional journals. In contrast, T.A.-student interactions are more often concerned with the results of course examinations and students' hopes for an upward adjustment of examination grades. Finally, student mentors at Reed are closer in age, status, and commitment to the scientific enterprise than are graduate T.A.'s and their undergraduate students. As a result, many graduate T.A.'s have a certain disdain for their students which reduces their teaching effectiveness. In a very real sense, student mentors and their students are more truly peers than are graduate T.A.'s and their students. This should strengthen rapport, and intensify interest in the particular science. Finally, those who receive student mentoring may come to identify with the career goals of their mentors, many of whom are graduate school bound.

In the fall of 1999, surveys were completed by both faculty (see Appendix A) and student mentors (Appendix B) in order to reflect on the summer training and expectations for the program in the upcoming school year.* Faculty members involved in the mentoring program predicted that it would have a considerable impact on students (both mentors and those enrolled in courses) in the Department. One faculty member wrote, "I think that the upper-level course that I teach will be much stronger with the student mentor's assistance. She and I have worked together closely this summer to update and strengthen class handouts and to teach her statistics and computer skills. She will be an excellent extra resource for students next year." Another faculty member emphasized the importance of this program in creating a stronger connection " between course and lab work. Students will be able to have a more hands-on research participation with the help of the mentor." In general, faculty reported that the mentoring program would be most important in providing extra resources and more individual attention for students in classes and labs, and in enabling students to become more active learners through increased participation in independent research projects in the coming year.

Student responses to a survey administered at the end of the 1999 summer training (see Appendix B) indicated a high level of satisfaction with the summer training. Almost all students reported that their experience as a mentor would likely have a moderate or significant impact on their performance as a student. One wrote, "I have gained a lot of skills that will definitely help me in my other psychology courses, thesis, and in other disciplines. The area that I have been focusing on is such an important part of psychology that being well learned in it can only benefit me." Another student reported that "the mentoring program has given me a chance to participate in research that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to be involved in. It has broadened my view of the field and helped me narrow in on my academic interests." Although a few worried about the time commitment at busy times during the school year, students were generally very optimistic about their continued participation in the program in the upcoming year.

At the end of the 1999-2000 school year, all Psychology faculty and students who participated over the past year were asked to reflect on their experience in the program.* All student mentors who responded to a survey (see Appendix C) reported a high level of satisfaction with the program. When asked to rate their mentoring experience on a scale of 1 to 4 (from very unfavorable to very favorable), the respondents rated their experience very favorably. These students reported that the mentoring experience resulted in a deeper understanding of their area of study and increased confidence in their ability to communicate with others and explain course material. In addition, students reported acquiring valuable skills from which they were able to benefit in very concrete ways. One student wrote, "My participation in the NSF-AIRE program resulted in gaining experience in an entire sub-field of psychology that I had no previous experience with. The (computer) programming skills I attained over the summer have been of use in my own class projects, as well as in obtaining additional employment." Another student reported that the skills and knowledge gained from the mentoring experience had greatly helped her complete her senior thesis project. When asked for suggestions for improving the program in the future, mentors reported that they would have benefited from more interactions with other student mentors and more explicit instruction or experience regarding effective tutoring strategies.

Faculty who responded to a survey (see Appendix D) also reported a high level of satisfaction with the program and that their earlier favorable expectations had been realized. One faculty member noted the benefits experienced by student mentors: "It was a good experience and a confidence builder for the student mentor to be knowledgeable about lab techniques and to impart that knowledge to other students." Another wrote that the "excitement generated by truly 'independent' projects in [my] upper division course was energizing and convincing -- I'd often been skeptical of the trade-off between the engagement generated by (student) 'ownership' and the frequent failure of (their) less structured research projects." Faculty members reported that they plan to continue their participation in the program in the 2000-2001 school year. One professor reported, "I definitely plan to have a mentor for my course next spring. I have found it to be of great assistance." Although there were some small problems reported in the program over the last year (e.g., a lack of clarity regarding the reports to be submitted by student mentors, the amount of time to be dedicated to more formalized training in areas such as pedagogy and computer skills versus research), the Psychology faculty felt confident that these issues could be successfully resolved in the upcoming year in order to make the program even more successful. One faculty member wrote "I think (the mentoring program) has tremendous potential. I'm looking forward to seeing how it works out this next year, and I'm very optimistic.

Students in the Psychology Department who came in contact with the student mentors were also asked to complete a survey (see Appendix E). Students found the program to be helpful, especially in connection with laboratory work and in the design and implementation of research projects. One student reported, " Having a mentor around to provide expertise in the labs was extremely useful, since they were far more familiar with the equipment and protocols than I. They were also good to bounce ideas off of when the instructor wasn't available." Another student described the assistance given by the student mentor in designing a research project: "The mentor had experience with a similar experiment and was able to offer much assistance." Others reported that student mentors provided computer-related technical help, assisted students in understanding and completing course assignments and in tutoring regarding course content. Finally, one student reported that the student mentors "were all incredibly helpful. The help of one of the mentors was integral to my (senior) thesis."

Congruent with previous research on peer tutoring programs, these faculty and student responses indicate that all sides benefited. Faculty members were able to train students to be knowledgeable assistants in their summer research, in addition to the extra help as laboratory or classroom assistants during the school year. The student mentors and the students with whom they came in contact described benefits of the program similar to those discussed by Goodland and Hirst (1989). Psychology students who received help from student mentors frequently mentioned that when they asked questions about class projects or labs, the mentors were especially helpful due to their past experience with similar tasks and in-depth knowledge about the subject. In addition, many of these students appreciated having both the professor and the student mentor available to help out. Finally, the student mentors benefited from working closely with a professor and gaining experience in an area of research, in reinforcing their knowledge by helping other students, and in providing them with a meaningful application of the knowledge gained in their studies.

It is expected that, in future years, many of the student mentors may continue to benefit from participation in the program. In a 1999 telephone survey of Psychology Department alumni who were currently involved in research (many as professors of psychology), it was found that almost all had participated in summer research while at Reed. In addition, most of the participants cited a close relationship with a professor who served as a mentor and role model as particularly important in encouraging them to seek further training in their field of interest. The current student mentoring program, which emphasizes both summer research and a close relationship with a Psychology Department faculty member, may therefore motivate students to pursue research and teaching careers.

To summarize, the Psychology Department's Undergraduate Research Mentoring program was viewed as a success at the end of its first year of implementation. The program provided an opportunity for the student mentors to work closely with Psychology faculty to develop important research-related skills and to gain a rigorous understanding of an area of interest to them. In addition, the mentoring program allowed faculty members to provide additional support to students who were conducting research projects and who needed supplemental help in mastering course material. Those involved in all aspects of the program (including faculty members, student mentors, and students who met with the mentors) reported that the program was an important asset to the Department and expressed the hope that it would continue in future years.

Introduction
Psychology
References
Appendix A: Survey of faculty summer experience and school year expectations
Appendix B: Survey of student summer experience and school year expectations
Appendix C: Mentor Follow-up Survey
Appendix D: Faculty Follow-up Survey
Appendix E: Survey for students in contact with the student mentors
Back to Science at Reed Reviews

top
Reed College 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., Portland, OR 97202-8199 Phone 503-771-8201 Fax 503-777-7769 Link to Reed Home