New ASU researcher supporting minority group success in engineering doctoral programs

According to the National Academies, only one in seven doctorates in engineering are obtained by underrepresented groups including African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. Research shows that several factors contribute to this disparity, but there haven’t been adequate resources available to support systemic change within academic institutions.

Now, a new National Science Foundation grant will help uncover how engineering programs can better support their minority doctoral students. It will do so using a research-based intervention model developed by a group of engineering education experts. The project, set to launch in January 2021, has the potential to improve doctoral completion rates among approximately 1,500 students and involve 50 engineering education leaders across 25 institutions.

One of those experts is Mayra S. Artiles a new assistant professor in the engineering education systems and design program at The Polytechnic School, one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Artiles is one of four principal investigators on the project, and she received $524,000 of $1.76 million of the Virginia Tech-led grant to be dispersed over five years.

“Research shows that when many minority students enter a PhD program, they are caught off guard as to what the doctoral process entails. They resort to strategies they learned in their undergraduate experience to make progress, often focusing on coursework and extracurriculars instead of research and building relationships with their advisors and the broader department,” says Artiles. “It is not until later in the PhD process that students face the reality that their efforts were misaligned.”

Artiles, in partnership with the other investigators, has developed the Rising Doctoral Institute, or RDI. The RDI aims to create a preparatory experience for engineering students facing challenges related to transitioning into the engineering doctoral degree process. Consequently, the RDI will serve as a model that can be adapted across institutional partners.

The investigators have developed a phased approach for the strategic implementation of the RDI.

They first will invite engineering education leaders from five collaborating institutions to observe an RDI modeled after a 2019 pilot program, and coach them as they develop RDI programs for their institutions.

The leaders of the collaborating institutions will then each host an RDI intervention for their own school. The primary investigators will serve as on-site consultants assisting in the integration of each program.

The group then intends to showcase the work of these collaborators and scale up the program to 20 institutions. In doing so, they can develop a community of practice led by the five initial collaborating schools to develop products based on the research findings.

Throughout the execution of this project, Artiles hopes data collected will reveal the impact of the RDI through early interventions among minoritized students during their transition into a doctoral environment. Artiles is also optimistic this research-based model has the potential to grow and improve as more institutional leaders integrate sustainable support structures like the RDI to create greater equity in the doctoral journey.