An Effective Industry-Based Mentoring Approach for the Recruitment of Women and Minorities in Engineering

  • Ivana Milanovic
  • Natalie Grant
Keywords: Engineering, Education, Mentoring, Broadening Participation, Industry Mentors,


This work is an investigative study on the powerful impact of mentoring partnerships between pre-college students and young engineering professionals in Hartford, CT. It was found that these partnerships provide a strong foundation for a diverse pre-college student engineering pipeline that includes women and under-represented minorities. The approach used is based on the principle of cross-age peer mentoring and combines industry-based mentoring with diversity-aware mentor recruitment strategies to 1) cultivate and train a corps of diverse mentors; 2) develop a suite of informal mentoring activities; and 3) apply and generate knowledge about impact of effective mentoring strategies in overcoming barriers to women and underrepresented minorities in engineering. The mentoring program was established at three public schools serving different population segments: suburban, multicultural suburban and urban tuition-free charter school. Diverse engineering professionals were recruited from local tech companies and trained to hone their mentoring skills. Additionally, mentoring assistants, female and minority undergraduate engineering students were recruited to help during mentoring sessions. The mentoring activities, evidence of program success, and future plans are presented and discussed. Results show that students who participate in industry-based mentoring are 55% more likely to demonstrate more interest and confidence in STEM subjects as well as 25% more likely to show greater interest in pursuing STEM careers.

Author Biographies

Abby Ilumoka is program director for engineering education in the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) at NSF. Prior to joining NSF in September 2015, Abby was a Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, a position which she held for 22 years. Her research expertise is in microelectronic circuit synthesis, mechatronics and artificial neural networks. In 2010, intrigued by the consistently low numbers of female and minority students in her engineering classes at the University of Hartford, she took an interest in STEM pedagogy focusing on identification of pedagogical strategies that overcome barriers to women and minorities in STEM. She successfully established STEM UP! – an NSF-funded multifaceted STEM immersion program in which she worked with STEM teachers in Connecticut middle and high schools, bringing diverse STEM practitioners from industry into the classroom to mentor students. Her focus within DUE is to use her experience and background in engineering research and education to broaden participation in STEM nationally using multiple approaches including the development of computational models that accurately model the US K-16 STEM education enterprise.
Ivana Milanovic
Ivana Milanovic is a full-time faculty member in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Hartford. Her area of expertise is thermo-fluids with research interests in vortical flows, computational fluid dynamics, multiphysics modeling, and collaborative learning strategies. Dr. Milanovic is a contributing author for more than 80 journal articles, NASA reports, conference papers, and software releases, and she is a member of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.
Natalie Grant
Natalie Grant is a dynamic female minority mechanical engineer with expertise in measurement systems, instrumentation, and egress for aircraft engine design. She has fourteen years of experience and currently works for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, a United Technologies Company. In her spare time Natalie enjoys spending time with family, practicing the piano, meditating, and Tai Chi. She attributes her success as a mother and an engineer to the infinite support from her family. Natalie is also a proponent of encouraging young children to pursue a career within the STEM fields and volunteers in activates promoting the progress of our communities.