At the University of Colorado Boulder (CU), a research-based undergraduate mentoring program is now in its second year of implementation. The program, Your Own Undergraduate Research Experience (YOU’RE@CU) has three main goals: improve the retention rate of diverse groups in undergraduate engineering, build undergraduate interest in engineering research, and prepare graduate students to take on leadership roles in either academia or industry-based research careers. In YOU’RE@CU, undergraduate students are paired with a graduate mentor and work in the graduate student’s lab several hours a week. Undergraduate mentees enroll in a one-credit seminar course focusing on research and graduate school opportunities, and are assessed via pre- and post-surveys to gauge their excitement and interest in engineering. The undergraduates also respond to biweekly qualitative reflective questions while participating in the program. Graduate mentors complete several reflective questions about their experiences and are required to complete pre- and post-assessments.
Adopting a person-centered, case study approach, this paper focuses on two telling examples of research-based mentoring relationships in the YOU’RE@CU program. Given identical mentor training through YOU’RE@CU, two graduate students start the Spring 2012 semester by meeting with their mentees to launch a research project. By examining application, pre-survey, reflective questions, and post-survey responses from these four participants, the differences in the trajectory of the two paired mentoring relationships can be clearly seen over the course of one semester. This close examination of two disparate mentoring relationships is instructive in understanding the subtle details that create either a positive learning environment or an uncomfortable lab situation for young engineers, and assists program administrators in making improvements in subsequent years.