Nurturing Success in STEM: The Power of Faculty Mentorship for Underrepresented Students

Kuchynka, S. L., Gates, A. E., & Rivera, L. M. (2023). When and why is faculty mentorship effective for underrepresented students in STEM? A multicampus quasi-experiment. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Advance online publication.

Summarized by Saniya Soni

About this Study 

The overrepresentation of White and Asian men in STEM fields, coupled with cultural stereotypes about who belongs in STEM, creates isolating, unwelcoming, and patronizing environments for underrepresented groups (URG) in STEM. Successful mentorship, characterized by emotional and culturally responsive support, is associated with improved performance and increased identification with STEM for URG students. Demographic matching (e.g., pairing women mentors with women mentees), however, does not consistently result in positive outcomes, as supportive mentorship depends on underlying relational dynamics. The authors propose that women faculty, due to shared stigmatized status and relational skills, may be more effective mentors for URG students. This study explored the impact of faculty mentorship on STEM related psychological outcomes for ethnic-racial minority students, compared how URG students perceived mentorship support functions provided by women and men faculty, and examined if these functions played a role in gendered faculty mentorship outcomes in STEM fields.

Key Findings

  • Faculty mentorship was positively linked to stronger identities, positive attitudes, belonging, and self-efficacy for URG students in STEM.
  • Relationships with women faculty mentors were associated with higher levels of psychosocial support, career support, and psychological closeness, leading to positive STEM-related psychological outcomes for URG students.
  • Gender and racial demographic matching was not necessary for developing feelings of similarity and connection with mentors.
  • URG students reported more mentorship support from women compared to men faculty mentors, but positive psychological outcomes were observed in mentorship relationships with both men and women faculty mentors.
  • Psychosocial support, career support, and psychological closeness mediate the relationship between faculty mentor gender (women versus men) and positive STEM outcomes for URG students.

Implications for Mentoring 

This research offers promising insights for faculty mentors aiming to foster positive outcomes for underrepresented groups (URGs) in STEM fields. It suggests that demographic matching may not be a prerequisite for effective mentorship, as ethnic-racial minority students can benefit from mentorship regardless of shared demographics. To maximize mentorship benefits, STEM faculty should understand the significance of psychosocial and career support, especially for URG students, and actively engage in supportive behaviors. Considering that URG students often experience feelings of being outsiders in STEM, addressing their belonging-based needs through mentorship could be a powerful tool to integrate them into the STEM community. By implementing these practices, faculty mentors can play a vital role in promoting diversity and inclusivity in STEM and fostering the success of URG students.

To read the full study, click here.