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Mentors Making a Difference

Posted Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The 15th Annual Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award Winners

 

Members of the GSC's mentoring awards committee, from left, Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, H'Sien Hayward, and Aaron Benavidez 

Professors Patricia D’Amore in the Division of Medical Sciences, David Mooney at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Jacob Olupona in African and African American Studies, Katharine Park in History of Science, and William Julius Wilson in Sociology are the recipients of the 2013 Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award. (See below.)

Everett MendelsohnThe Graduate Student Council has given this award — presented on April 10 in a Dudley House ceremony attended by winning and nominated faculty mentors — each year for the last 15 years. It is named for Professor of the History of Science, Emeritus, Everett I. Mendelsohn, a former master of Dudley House, and it celebrates the essential nature of strong mentoring at the graduate level — and the faculty who go out of their way to mentor GSAS students professionally, academically, and personally in ways large and small.


At this year’s ceremony, Mendelsohn — who attends every year — remarked on the spirit of camaraderie in the room. “Each of us in this room is choosing a life of teaching and scholarship. But what we do as teachers is not something that we get sat down and given instructions on. It’s something that, in some measure, we gain through our interaction with students. If we do it well, we pass it on.”

The ceremony’s guest speaker was Julie Buckler, professor of Slavic languages and literatures, who won the Mentoring Award in 2004 and calls it “one of the honors that I prize most highly.” In Julie Bucklerher brief remarks, she tried to capture the nature of mentoring by referring to a recent New Yorker piece by pianist Jeremy Denk, in which he reflected on a lifetime of piano lessons and the impact of his instructors. A good mentor, Buckler said, is “rigorous and engaged, flexible and responsive, and above all, respectful.” As she summarized it, “Mentoring is simply a way of making authentic connections that serve the needs of others.


 

Patricia D’Amore

Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School

Patricia D'Amore surrounded by her students

 

Patricia D’Amore’s mentoring abilities “were evident as soon as I joined her laboratory,” one nominator wrote, citing D’Amore’s effective laboratory management — a possible legacy of her MBA from Northeastern — as key to her success as a research leader. “In the very first weekly lab meeting that I attended, Dr. D’Amore had all of her staff fill out a survey so she could assess our communication preferences, our career expectations, and what organizational roles we preferred. Thus, Dr. D’Amore tailored her management and mentoring style to individual trainees.” Another praised her for her personal attention, which even extends to the online sphere. “She often checks up on my Google Chat status, and if it looks like I am sick or feeling sad, she will chat with me to see what is wrong and try to cheer me up. It definitely makes me feel good to know that I have a mentor who will take the time to look after her students’ emotional health, and not just their research productivity.” The result, numerous nominators reported, is a decidedly special laboratory atmosphere, in which members greet each other in the morning, coordinate lunches, and celebrate, often with cake – and often enough, in fact, that new members of the D’Amore lab are warned about the dreaded “lab five” they can expect their waistlines to suffer. “I know there will be a time one day when I look back on the people who have had the most influence in my life,” one advisee wrote, “and that Dr. D’Amore will be at the top of my list.”

 

David Mooney

Robert P. Pinkas Family Professor of Bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

David Mooney and students

 

In nominations, students praised David Mooney for fostering a safe, encouraging, and intellectually exciting laboratory environment. As one of his advisees wrote, “Dave has a remarkable ability to remain connected to each trainee in his group. He finds the time to meet biweekly (or more frequently) with each and every student and postdoctoral fellow in a large research group, even with a busy teaching and travel schedule, and numerous roles at academic On mentoring graduate students: “Of all the things I do, that is probably the single most important.” — David Mooneyinstitutions and private companies.” Another wrote, “Professor Mooney has always said that the reason he decided to pursue a career in academia is that he loves being a mentor to students, and his love is apparent. He always comes prepared, sometimes more so than I, to our meetings. And he always meets me with such refreshing excitement that through the ups and downs of my projects, I always felt uplifted, encouraged, and refreshed after our meetings.” All of his nominators stressed that Mooney’s most impressive quality was his commitment to the intellectual and professional growth of his advisees. “He truly enjoys seeing us grow, and he is there with us each step of the way.” And he encourages his advisees to spread their wings and take risks. “He understands that failure happens often in the pursuit of cutting edge research, and he is always willing to hear about failed experiments and help us work through them, one nominator wrote. “He is patient and encouraging, even when progress with experiments feels slow.”

 

Jacob Olupona

Professor of African and African American Studies and Professor of African Religious Traditions, Department of African and African American Studies, Committee on the Study of Religion, and Harvard Divinity School

Jacob Olupona with his students

 

Jacob Olupona “quite literally spends all of his considerable energy ensuring that his students have the necessary direction, guidance, and instruction for us to succeed,” wrote one student nominator — one of many praising both his valuable professional counsel and his tireless dedication. One advisee was having trouble finding funding for summer research, for instance, until Professor Olupona restructured his own research budget to make a place for the advisee. Another wrote, “Even though the mere mention of his name and that I am his student has opened doors for me at every academic institution I have visited in Nigeria, he has most students here call him by his first name and never considers himself too important to share his personal stories and experiences with undergraduates who are simply curious about religion and/or African Studies. It is truly an honor to have such a highly respected public figure take such a deep personal interest in my development as a person and a scholar.” Another recalled Olupona spending Sunday afternoon at the office writing letters of recommendation requested at the last minute. "I have yet to see Prof turn away a student in need," that nominator wrote. And others echoed the same theme, with one writing, “Each time I approach Prof. Olupona – whatever I have asked – he has come through and done all that he could to help ensure my success.”

 

Katharine Park

Samuel Zemurray, Jr. and Doris Zemurray Stone Radcliffe Professor in the Department of History of Science

Katherine Park (shown on Skype from Berlin) took part in the ceremony with some help from the students who nominated her.

 

In their nominations, history of science students past and present expressed deep admiration for Katharine Park as a scholar, a selfless mentor, and a person whose warmth and humility make others feel instantly at ease. Nominators collaborated to compile a list of memorable mentorship moments from Park. “Once I (rather abruptly) visited [her] at the research institution where she was spending her year leave, and she paused to talk to me for three hours. Another time I gave her the first draft of a paper and one week later she responded with four pages of comments and suggestions. There could be a long list of such stories,” one wrote. Another nomination quoted from a collectively authored speech given when Park stepped down as director of graduate studies: “Generations of graduate students in the History of Science Department have relied on Katy’s thoroughness, organization, and compassion. Her commitment to graduate education and to her graduate students has been evident in every visa application she’s helped navigate, every incomplete she’s helped us plan to complete, every conversation she’s had with us about courses, job applications, generals, and teaching.” A rigorous scholar who inspires rigor in others, and possessing of a “straight-shooting pragmatism” about everything from grant applications to the job market, Park is “an ideal advisor who constantly enriches the definition of a fulfilling academic life.”

 

William Julius Wilson

Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor in the Department of Sociology, the Department of African and African American Studies, and the Harvard Kennedy School

William Julias Wilson with several of his student nominators

 

The renowned sociologist William Julius Wilson was described as “like a father to me” by more than one of his nominating students. “Not much can be said about Bill Wilson that has not already been said by other scholars, United States presidents, and different award committees,” one wrote. “What goes unnoticed is how great a mentor he is.” 
Such was the theme of all of his letters of nomination, which expressed unanimous awe that a scholar of Wilson’s stature could find the time to prepare detailed comments on graduate student work, attend conferences where his advisees were presenting, and respond to emails within 24 hours.  He is “extraordinarily kind, generous and supportive,” one student wrote. “He regularly goes well beyond what could reasonably be expected of any faculty member, let alone one of the most prominent sociologists in the world.” And if his nominators didn’t describe Wilson as a father figure, they described him as a friend. “Of course,” one wrote, “having a friend like Bill does have many pluses, which I learned when he could not attend President Obama’s first inauguration and offered his ticket to me instead!” “Bill truly cares about the well-being and success of his students,” another wrote. “He welcomes conversations about the struggles of graduate school and an academic career.” As yet another nominator put it, “When I leave Bill’s office, I feel reenergized and inspired.”