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Countless studies have demonstrated and documented the benefits to students who participate in undergraduate research. One of the most valuable benefits to students majoring in the STEM fields is preparation for post-baccalaureate education. There is a great deal of structure and detail that goes into building an undergraduate research program, and an important part of this structure is the undergraduate research mentor. Those who choose to mentor undergraduate researchers play a crucial role in the student's experience, which can determine whether the student continues on the STEM pathway or chooses to change course. For this reason, it is important that the mentor is well prepared to effectively guide her charge through the complex journey of academic research. Learning to be a good mentor is a process; like most things, the more it is practiced, the better the practitioner will become. However, there are established programs that have been developed that provide mentors with a practical framework within which to develop an effective method of mentoring. Presented below is a "checklist" that is based on some of elements of these programs. Because no two students are the same, the checklist is designed to inspire the mentor to assess each student individually and resist the urge to take a one-size-fits-all approach to mentoring.

Checklist for Mentoring the Undergraduate Research Student
Laying the Foundation
• Are you (or a proxy) available to the student on a regular and consistent basis?
• Have you developed a rapport with the student beyond the subject of your research?
• Do you ask enough questions of the student to fully understand his/her perspective?
• Have you created an environment where the student can freely ask questions without fear or embarrassment?
• Do you ensure that communication with the student is clear and effective?
• Are you sure that your area of research is best for and of interest to the student?
• Have you developed a mentoring philosophy and does it inform your actions as a mentor?
• Do you come to the relationship with no judgment or preconceived ideas about the student?
• Are you aware of the possibility of unconscious assumptions or biases?
• Did the student participate in setting the goals and objectives they are expected to meet?
• Do you address problems or issues that arise quickly and fairly?
• Is the feedback provided to the student honest and constructive?
• Do you seek the advice and support of more experience mentors?
Research and Professional Development
• Is the research project reasonable in scope and feasible?
• Can the project generate data that the student can present?
• Does the project have built-in challenges designed to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills?
• Have you provided the student a clear and thorough orientation to the research environment, including safety, personnel and culture?
• Does the student have the opportunity to engage in scientific writing?
• Have you set clear, reasonable and high expectations for the student and informed him/her of what he/she should expect from you?
• Is there a forum where the student can present the results of his/her research?

Kuh, George D. 2008. “High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter.” Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Lopatto, David. 2010. “Science in Solution: The Impact of Undergraduate Research on Student Learning.” Washington, D.C.: Council of Undergraduate Research and Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement.

Elgren, Tim and Hensel, Nancy. 2006. “Undergraduate Research Experiences: Synergies between Scholarship and Teaching.” Peer Review, 8(1), 4-7.

Gant, Gary D., & Dillon, Michael J. and Malott, Richard W. (1980) A Behavioral System for Supervising Undergraduate Research. Teaching of Psychology Vol 7, No. 2: 89-92.

Pita, M, Ramirez, C. Joacin, N., Prentice, S. & Clarke, C. (Spring 2013). Five Effective Strategies for Mentoring Undergraduates: Students’ Perspectives. CUR Quarterly, 33(3), 11-15.

Office of Undergraduate Research. Mentoring Undergraduate: A Guide for Mentor. Retrieved from University of Miami.

Temple, Louise, Subley, Thomas Q. and Orr, Amy J. (2010). How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers. Council on Undergraduate Research.

Handelsman, J., Pfund, C., Miller Lauffer, S., and Maidl Pribbenow, C. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists. Madison, WI: Univversity of Wisconsin Press.

I recently attended the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) conference on Transforming STEM Education: Inquiry, Innovation, Inclusion and Evidence. It was an information-rich conference which highlighted the amazing initiatives currently taking place in the field of STEM education.To give you a taste of the veritable smorgasbord of information provided at the conference, I have prepared a summary of the sessions I attended in the whirlwind two days that I was at the meeting.

Please feel free to contact me if you want to discuss or learn more about any of the topics included in the summary. Bon appétit!


The more diversity we find in all facets of our society, the better off we are as a society. This diversity would not be fully realized without those with disabilities. Consequently, making accommodations for students with disabilities is not just a legal obligation; it is also a social and moral one. Citizens with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in many areas of the American workplace, including positions in the STEM fields. One way that we, as educators, can help to improve the number of people with disabilities in fields where they have been traditionally underrepresented is by supporting them in their pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees. Taking steps to make our course content accessible will give all students an equal opportunity to benefit from the pedagogical styles and techniques used in physical and virtual classrooms all over the country.

Disability and Accessibility provides some useful information about students and disabilities, along with some practical approaches to teaching students with learning disabilities. The information focuses on learning disabilities, but the resources provide information about a variety of disabilities. As you review the information in Disability and Accessibility, keep in mind the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. UDL helps us focus on students' abilities rather than their disabilities. Curricular and pedagogical changes can then be made that benefit all students by providing all with an equal opportunity to learn.

The science of teaching and learning on math education is crystal clear – there is an undeniable and intimate link between reading comprehension and math achievement. Back in 1998, middle school math teacher, Peter Fuentes, enlightened us to the fact that effective reading, and all of the behaviors that go along with it, is a fundamental skill on the road to success in mathematics.

We must acknowledge that reading in a mathematical context (i.e., word problems, mathematical textbooks) is inherently different than other types of reading. The content presented in a math setting is often information-dense and compact. Additionally, math concepts can be abstract and difficult to concretize. Another complicating factor is the fact that math has its own language that some students may find difficult to master. Some terms are unique and students must become conversant with terms and symbols that are new to them. Some terms are familiar, but used with completely different meanings. In these circumstances, it is not difficult to understand why some students view math as a frightening and mysterious subject that they have little chance of understanding.

Fortunately, the math education literature has provided a variety of instructional techniques to improve students’ math reading comprehension and retention skills. These include math journaling, math-specific vocabulary exercises, and integration of math vocabulary and concepts into other subjects (e.g. language). We can look to a middle school ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher to see one of these techniques in action. In a journal exercise, she provides the students with a list of lesson-related math vocabulary words. Students are then required to write a paragraph using as many as the words as possible. This exercise requires students to demonstrate a level of understanding of targeted concepts sufficient to construct meaningful writings.

The example above is seen in a middle school context, but the idea can be expanded and scaled to any level of math education. It is important to for us to help students to embrace the language of mathematics. With fluency, students can approach math problems (word and otherwise) with an understanding and confidence that leads to improved math performance. The following sources may be useful for a better understanding of the relationship between reading and math.

  • Fuentes, Peter. (1998) Reading Comprehension in Mathematics. The Clearing House, 72(2), 81-88.