A Near-Peer Mentoring Cascade to Promote Inclusive Research Training at the Coastal and Marine Institute Laboratory

Project Number
Project Date Range

A summer research program at San Diego State University, matching undergraduate students with graduate mentors, was expanded to provide increased access to groups currently underrepresented in the field of ecological and evolutionary biology. A one-day-a-week format helped accommodate students whose financial and family obligations might otherwise prevent participation in a summer program.


Educational inequity is persistent and widespread in the United States, especially among STEM fields, and underrepresented minorities are particularly rare in the field of ecological and evolutionary biology. Given that undergraduate students are more likely to continue pursuing degrees and careers in STEM if they participate in mentored research, increasing access to such opportunities can help increase and diversify participation in this field.

This project expanded an existing summer research program for community college students at the San Diego State University Coastal and Marine Institute Laboratory. The funding created six research teams, each including a rising senior undergraduate from SDSU and an undergraduate from a community college matched with a graduate student mentor. SDSU and the included community colleges are classified as Hispanic-serving institutions; 36% of the resulting group of undergraduates identified as coming from underrepresented groups, 45% as low-income and 73% as female. The mentors participated in a four-day equity-based mentorship workshop.

The different teams conducted field or laboratory research related to marine science one day a week. This schedule was designed to accommodate students who could not leave jobs or family constraints for a full-time summer program. The students also attended several online professional development workshops and, at the conclusion of the 12-week program, presented posters about their research to SDSU graduate students and faculty. Additionally, a subset of students presented their posters at the November 2023 meeting of the Western Society of Naturalists. Several student-authored publications are forthcoming.

Based on pre- and post-program online surveys, the undergraduate students increased their sense of belonging in marine and coastal sciences (a mean increase of 1.4 out of 20 possible points) and were more motivated to obtain a degree in the field (mean increase of 0.7 out of 20 points).

Principal Investigators
Brian Hentschel
San Diego State University (San Diego State)
Co-principal Investigators
Luke Miller
San Diego State University (San Diego State)