Online Mentoring for Biotechnology Graduate Students: An Industry-Academia Partnership

Volume, Issue - Date: 
Volume 17, Issue 1 - January 2013
Rana Khan, University of Maryland University College
Arhonda Gogos, Independent Consultant and External Evaluator
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Mentoring, biotechnology, distance education, industry
The Professional Science Master’s Biotechnology program at the University of Maryland University College developed and implemented a novel online mentoring program to increase synergy with the biotechnology industry. In this program, Master’s students are paired with mentors from the biotechnology industry. A mentor assistant, who is a graduate of the degree program, assists each pair. Utilizing an open source platform and web-based technologies, each pair interacts on a regular basis to formulate and/or revise the students’ professional goals and action plans. Each pair continues their interaction until the student graduates. The impact of the mentoring program is assessed through several measures including feedback on surveys and academic performance. The program grew from 19 mentor-mentee pairs in fall 2009 to 46 pairs in fall 2011. This trend and the current student retention rate of 79% suggest increasing student interest. Among the students who joined the mentoring program, those who continued participating had completed more courses/credit hours at the time of joining than the students who dropped from the program. The end-of-semester questionnaires showed generally positive student satisfaction and provided specific examples of gains in the students’ ability to identify and pursue their career goals. The number of courses completed by the mentees was significantly higher than the number of courses completed by a comparison group of non-participants, indicating a possible effect of their participation in the mentoring program. So far, more mentees graduated than the comparison group of non-participants, and in less overall time. As the program progresses, possible effects on students’ academic achievement and time-to-graduation will be reevaluated. The effectiveness of the mentoring program on improving the participants’ career prospects after graduation will also be examined. The benefit of such a novel program is the ease with which it bridges the gap between industry and academia, providing a remarkable career development opportunity for students while building a strong community of professionals.