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Mentoring Manual

Talking about gender, race, and ethnicity with your mentee

Given the dominant demographics, it is likely that most women in an engineering program will be mentored by men. It is also likely that under-represented minority students will be mentored by people who are not of their race, ethnicity, or nationality.

Some data on mentoring indicates that the race and gender of the mentor can impact the student. There is also evidence that a mentoring relationship with an under-represented minority is improved when the mentor can talk about race.

Mentors: If your student is an under-represented minority student who is attending a minority serving institution and you are at a large predominantly white research university, ask them how they are experiencing their new placement. Ask about how they find your campus or field station. How is it different in terms of size? How do they experience you as a faculty member compared to many of their other faculty? Ask them how they are experiencing working in a research group with international and other students with different backgrounds. Ask how they are being treated in the community. Ask if they have any concerns with how they are being treated as a woman or minority. Be sure to focus a question on them personally (as opposed to as representative for their entire race or ethnicity).

“One summer I had a student from a small HBCU. After about three weeks into the placement he would come into the lab wearing a head wrap and would be working at the computer listening to rap music. When I walked in he would quickly turn off the music and remove his head covering. I talked with him about my expectations – that he neither had to remove his head covering nor stop the music, but just come to the lab and work hard. And we had to talk about what aspect of his habits – coming in late in the morning and taking a long lunch – did need to change. His music or head covering in no way influenced his behavior (always professional). His time at work improved, as did his comfort with what he wore (always professional).”

- Dr. J. Adin Mann, M.E., faculty mentor, Iowa State University


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