The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs will honor three faculty members this spring for their work mentoring undergraduate students in research.
It’s important to honor the excellent work being done by research mentors because they’re key to the success of the university’s nationally recognized undergraduate research and creative activity program, says Dr. Erica Benson, interim director of ORSP.
“Mentors not only model the methods and practices of the discipline but also foster students’ intellectual and professional development and build relationships with students that often last long after the collaborative research/creative activity experience has come to an end,” Benson says.
Faculty research mentors receiving awards are Dr. Allison Beemer, assistant professor of mathematics; Dr. Jeanette Olsen, associate professor of nursing; and Dr. Sanchita Hati, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. They will receive their awards during an ORSP ceremony at 4:30 p.m. May 4 in the Ojibwe Ballroom of Davies Center.
These award winners are among the many outstanding UW-Eau Claire faculty who serve as research mentors to hundreds of Blugolds each year across campus, Benson says.
“Our mentors are accomplished researchers, scholars and artists, expert teachers and conscientious role models, who support students in building expertise, solving problems, asking questions, acquiring professional ethics and beyond,” Benson says.
Beemer will receive the Emerging Mentor in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Award, given to a mentor who’s been at UW-Eau Claire for five or fewer years. Students and alumni nominate faculty for this honor, which includes a $500 award.
Introducing students to mathematical research and supporting them as they explore and disseminate their work is one of the most enjoyable parts of her job as a math professor and is “essential for advancing equity in the field,” Beemer says.
She invites students to “take ownership of a small slice of mathematics to cultivate a sense of belonging within the field,” says Beemer, who has mentored seven student researchers.
A student who nominated Beemer for the award describes her as an incredible professor and mentor who “allows me to say what I’m thinking without fear of being wrong.” The student says Beemer leads her “in the right direction when I have questions, but also allows me to independently think through the work we’re doing.”
In her recommendation letter, Dr. Carolyn Otto, professor of mathematics, says Beemer is “positively the most dedicated, motivated and promising early career faculty member that I’ve encountered.” When recruiting students, Beemer considers different characteristics, from experience to mathematical ability to demographical diversity, always looking for students who are “inquisitive and enthusiastic with the content and who have the potential to diversify the perspectives of the research team,” Otto says.
Olsen will receive the Excellence in Mentoring in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Award. The $1,500 award is given to a faculty member who has been at UW-Eau Claire for five or more years.
Olsen says students start projects at different levels of research knowledge and skill, but she expects them all to be willing to “risk moving beyond one’s comfort zone and give one’s best effort to support personal growth and project quality,” Olsen says. She strives to create a space “where it’s safe to take these risks, making it clear that effort, rather than perfection, is the goal and that seeking feedback and making revisions is the norm for all team members, including faculty,” she says.
A student nominator says working with Olsen has inspired her to pursue research throughout her nursing career. With Olsen’s encouragement and support, the student says her research will be published in two journals by the time she graduates, an accomplishment not possible without Olsen’s “leadership, organization and wonderful mentoring skills.”
Dr. Shelley-Rae Pehler, professor emerita of nursing, says Olsen guides students through the research process, “setting them up for success.” By working with Olsen, students “see the full research trajectory as well as the professional relationships that are crucial to a successful research project,” Pehler says.
Hati will receive the Career Excellence in Mentoring, in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity Award, a newly established $1,500 award that recognizes faculty with more than 15 years at UW-Eau Claire. Recipients are nominated by colleagues.
“Undergraduate student research mentoring is essential to my job as an educator, which brings me both fulfillment and joy,” says Hati, who has made mentoring student researchers a priority since she began teaching on campus in 2006.
“Through conducting research, I can instruct students in a more flexible format, personalizing the experience to the learning needs of each student,” Hati says. “I use undergraduate research to teach biochemistry and biophysical chemistry, to prepare students for graduate school and industry, and to help students see themselves as scientists.”
Through her role as a mentor, Hati aims to “instill curiosity and inspire creative thinking, while nurturing independence and fostering a love for learning.” Since it’s well-documented that undergraduate research has many benefits, she tries to provide this “high-impact learning opportunity” to as many students as possible, either in traditional lab settings or through course-embedded authentic research.
Hati says she also emphasizes the importance of sharing research because “without communicating research findings to others, the learning seems incomplete.” Her research with undergraduate students has led to many peer-reviewed publications and research presentations, including 20 published peer-reviewed journal articles with undergraduates as co-authors. To date, she has mentored 60 undergraduate student researchers.
In a letter of recommendation, Dr. Stephen Drucker, a professor in the chemistry and biochemistry department, says Hati’s research is at the forefront of her field and is supported by significant federal funding. He says her students’ research experiences are “authentic and substantial,” and that Hati has “trained them for productive scientific careers.”
Written by Judy Berthiaume