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Lilibeth Azucena Flores  
Mica Estrada  
Perla Sandoval  
Kanoho Hosoda  
Natalia Maldonado  
Kathy DeerInWater  

The Role of Mentor Communication on Well-being for Native Scholars

Lilibeth Azucena Flores, University of California San Francisco 
Mica Estrada, Associate Professor, University of California San Francisco 
Perla Sandoval, University of California San Francisco 
Kanoho Hosoda, University of California San Francisco 
Natalia Maldonado, University of California San Francisco 
Kathy DeerInWater, AISES Director of Research, AISES

Until recently, scholars described the STEM academic path as a pipeline, with historically underrepresented (HU) scholars “leaking out” at higher rates as their level of education progressed. However, there are benefits (and perhaps accuracy) in imagining the higher education journey as a braided river, where students take different paths to reach their educational goals, with a variety of support structures contributing to their success.1 Quality mentors, who provide psychological support, instrumental support, and networking opportunities, have been identified as positive support structures contributing to the experience of HU STEM scholars.2 NA/AI scholars are the most severely underrepresented group in STEM, with hardly any amount of research dedicated to this group of scholars.3,4 Little is known about how mentorship provides support to Native American/American Indian (NA/AI) scholars in STEM. Further, existing research has focused on retention in the STEM workforce and little on student’s well-being, a factor that may help students maintain interest in and integration into the STEM community. This study seeks to advance knowledge by answering the question: What type of mentor communication leads to greater well-being for NA/AI scholars? 

In this study, 99 NA/AI students, active in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) program, participated in a longitudinal, nationwide study to assess how the quality of communication with their mentors impacted their overall well-being. Participants were 62% female and enrolled in a degree program in STEM. Data was collected across two years with a mean response rate of 89%. 

Results showed a negative significant relationship between frequency of mentor communication and well-being (b = -.1925, SE = .09, p = .04, 95% CI [-.38, -.01]). When we looked further, we found that mentor quality mediated the relationship between communication frequency (b = .51, SE = .08, p < .05, 95% CI [.34, .68]) and well-being, such that students who communicate more frequently with their mentor but rate their mentor higher in quality, report greater well-being (b = .41, SE = .13, p < .05, 95% CI [.14, .68]). Additionally, we found mentor cultural understanding was also a significant mediator between communication and well-being (b = .90, SE = .27, p <  .05, 95% CI [.34, 1.46]). Results indicate when scholars experienced increased communication and shared cultural understanding, their overall well-being improved (b = .60, SE = .19, p < .05, 95% CI [.20, .98]). However, when increased communication failed to lead to increased mentor culture, scholar’s well-being was actually negatively impacted (b = -.18, SE = .36, p = .61, 95% CI [-.91, .54]). 

This study highlights the advantages of engaging in research that focuses specifically on NA/AI scholars. While there may be an assumption that communication between mentors and mentees is advantageous, these results indicate that the content and quality of the communication impacts the well-being of NA/AI scholars. We found that communication that shows knowledge of NA/AI culture is important for NA/AI scholars and should be considered when designing interventions that lead to retention in STEM for this group of scholars.  


1 Batchelor, R. L., H. Ali, K. G. Gardner-Vandy, A. U. Gold, J. A. MacKinnon, and P. M. Asher (2021), Reimagining STEM workforce development as a braided river, Eos, 102 Published on 19 April 2021. 

2 Estrada, M., Hernandez, P. R., & Schultz, P. W. (2018). A Longitudinal Study of How Quality Mentorship and Research Experience Integrate Underrepresented Minorities into STEM Careers. CBE life sciences education, 17(1), ar9. 

3 Norris T, Vines PL, Hoeffel EM. The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010. Washington, DC; 2012.

4 Chang, M. J., Sharkness, J., Hurtado, S., & Newman, C. B. (2014). What matters in college for retaining aspiring scientists and engineers from underrepre­sented racial groups. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51, 555–580.

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