SIUE research team members (top L-R) Carol Colaninno, PhD, Adriana Martinez, PhD, (bottom L-R) Rohan Benjankar, PhD, Alan Black, PhD, and Sharon Locke, PhD.Effective mentorship plays a pivotal role in the success of graduate students, as supportive mentorship relationships are linked to student retention, degree completion and early career success.

That’s why the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Graduate School has centered its new Innovation and Excellence in Graduate Education (IEGE) grant program’s inaugural funding on projects that enhance the quality and effectiveness of graduate student mentorship.

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“Transforming the STEM Graduate Experience at SIUE: Evidence-based Practices to Support and Advance Effective Mentorship,” is an interdisciplinary collaboration that has received $6,375 in IEGE funding. Its research team includes:

  • Carol Colaninno, PhD, research assistant professor in the SIUE STEM Center and adjunct professor in the CAS Department of Anthropology
  • Adriana Martinez, PhD, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) Departments of Environmental Sciences and Geography and Geographic Information Sciences
  • Rohan Benjankar, PhD, assistant professor in the School of Engineering Department of Civil Engineering
  • Alan Black, PhD, assistant professor in the CAS Department of Geography and Geographic Information Sciences
  • Sharon Locke, PhD, director of the SIUE STEM Center and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences

“Despite the importance of mentor-mentee relationship to the success of the graduate student, few faculty members receive training in and/or assessment of their mentoring practices,” Colaninno said. “Graduate students, who are learning how to be experts in their field of study, need that additional mentorship support to feel as though they are integrated into the scientific community and develop their identity as a STEM professional.”

The project’s primary goals include documenting current graduate student perceptions of mentorship experiences via focus groups, developing and implementing an evidence-based STEM faculty mentorship professional development series, and leveraging those activities to support the submission of a National Science Foundation (NSF) proposal that would provide scholarship support for SIUE graduate students. The researchers’ results will be disseminated throughout the SIUE graduate mentoring community.

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“Research indicates how important a factor mentorship can be toward contributing to the retention, persistence and success of students,” Colannino added. “Understanding how we can make mentorship more effective, especially for students of color who have been historically kept out of STEM by systemic barriers that include failed mentorship practices, has been an area of research for me.”

“Thus far, our efforts have been productive and enjoyable, because we are a group of faculty, like many at SIUE, who strongly believe we should be building the strongest possible programs for students,” she emphasized. “Mentorship is such a huge component of graduate education that all of us want to understand and develop mentorship practices at SIUE that are student-centered and truly work for graduate students.”

The initiative is already working to meet its goals. According to Colaninno, the team is currently conducting focus groups with graduate students in STEM departments to understand their current perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of their mentorship experience. Soon, they will host a panel discussion with graduate students for a faculty audience.

In March, a book reading will be held in collaboration with the Center for Faculty Development and Innovation on the 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s The Science of Effective STEMM Mentorship. The following month, the team will host a two-day workshop to facilitate faculty as they develop a mentorship plan. Results will be shared with the Graduate School in fall 2021.

Donations and pledges made to The Rosemarie Archangel, Ellen Sappington, and Stephen L. and Julia Y. Hansen Innovation and Excellence in Graduate Education Endowment, totaling $422,153, have made this grant funding possible. The endowment’s goal is set at $500,000. To contribute, visit

By preparing the next generation of leaders in a knowledge-based economy, SIUE’s Graduate School fulfills the region’s demand for highly trained professionals. Graduate school offerings include arts and sciences, business, education, engineering, nursing, and interdisciplinary opportunities. SIUE professors provide students with a unique integration of theoretical education and hands-on research experiences. Students can obtain graduate certificates or pursue master’s degrees, and be part of a supportive learning and rich intellectual environment that is tailored to the needs of adult learners. The Graduate School raises the visibility of research and creative activity at SIUE, which ranks highest among its Illinois Board of Higher Education peers in total research and development expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation. Doctoral programs are available in nursing practice and educational leadership. Cooperative PhD programs in history, environmental resources and policy, engineering science, and computer science are offered with SIU Carbondale.

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