The Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement is keenly aware of how much time and energy our faculty contribute to undergraduate research at FSU, and we are glad to be able to recognize that hard work and dedication. In addition to the Honors Thesis Mentor Awards made available by the University Honors Program, the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement offers one Undergraduate Research Mentor Award each year reserved for a faculty research mentor participating in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). The $2,000 award is funded by the FSU Office of Research and presented at the annual FSU faculty awards dinner.
One graduate student and one postdoctoral researcher is also selected for a $500 annual award for recognition of excellence in undergraduate research mentoring.
In order to be eligible to receive the Undergraduate Research Mentor award, mentors must have signed the UROP research assistantship contract with the nominating student.
Winners of the award are ineligible for nomination for three years following the receipt of the award.
The Undergraduate Faculty Research Mentor Award for 2021 was presented to Dr. Robb Tomko for mentoring UROP student Sathvik Bilakanti in research about "discovery of microsporidia-selective anti-proteasome nanobodies."
Dr. Robb Tomko
"In one-on-one mentoring situations such as my scientific laboratory, it is my duty to impart on the next generation of scientists the craft of academic research, in addition to more pragmatic skills essential for today’s scientists, such as grantsmanship, budgeting and accounting, time and personnel management, and networking. I firmly believe in leading through actions. As a mentor and scientific role model, I aim to make all of my scientific and administrative actions transparent, so that my mentees can learn from them. In some cases, however, there is simply no substitute for frontline experience. Therefore, I try to actively include mentees in processes such as conceiving their scientific studies, designing their experiments, and crafting manuscripts, presentations, and posters. I also encourage my mentees to continuously draft and revise their scientific goals and conclusions. These experiences familiarize them with the iterative nature of many academic and technical endeavors, teach patience and determination, and perhaps most importantly, prepare them to tackle lofty goals in their chosen careers or to be successful in subsequent graduate education. Importantly, I strive to impart strong scientific ethics and academic honesty upon my students by focusing on the goal of answering the question, not getting the desired result.
I view my teaching and mentoring as an investment in young academics; these men and women will shortly be my colleagues and collaborators. By forging strong relationships with my students based on clarity, honesty, and rigor, I help assure there will be a cadre of talented and objective thinkers to carry on academic discovery into the future."
—Dr. Robb Tomko, from his mentoring statement
“Through my UROP experience so far, I have never met someone as funny or brilliant like Robb. Robb makes science fun and interesting which is always important for us undergraduates because we can sometimes not understand what is happening at times. You can tell just by his teaching and motivation that he cares for his students and wants all of them to understand what is clearly going on in the lab and what exactly is happening through each step when we perform science. As complex as the information can be, Robb is great at explaining material to someone like me who doesn’t really have the full grasp of what is exactly going on. Robb is committed to teaching his students how to do research in molecular biology, but he is also committed to bringing joy in students, he understands that students go through stress all the time so bringing laughter is important. As you work more with Robb, you can tell that he understands diversity is important in the workspace and that research is not a place to discriminate. Robb understands that everyone is united by science and everyone should be treated fair when it comes to it. When it comes to mentoring, Robb uses a specialized way to teach which includes lab meetings, discussions, and actual research. When it comes to lab meetings, Robb makes sure the undergraduates understand what is going on and explains information clearly, which always helps to clarify the material. Throughout his already busy day, Robb takes time away from his schedule just to proctor me when we are in the lab doing various things. I love his dedication to his students as it is clear that he loves to teach and values his undergraduate scientists."
—Sathvik Bilakanti, UROP student 2020-2021, from his nomination letter
The Post-Doc Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for 2021 was presented to Dr. Sam Holley-Kline. Dr. Holley-Kline mentored UROP student Michelle Evangelista on "Histories of Extractivism in Indigenous Mexico."
Michelle Evangelista (pictured left) and Dr. Holley-Kline (pictured right)
"To begin, I meet students where they are, so that they are able to accomplish individual objectives that meet broader standards. We first discuss mutual expectations and needs. Sometimes, the result is a structured, proactive approach. My UROP student collaborators are new to the craft of research. Before beginning our project, I used a Canvas Org site to set up shared Dropbox folders, Zotero accounts, Google Sheets, and introductory readings, such that we shared common references. I followed up with individual students during biweekly meetings, and discussed progress with each as they developed their ideas. During monthly group meetings, we discussed the broader project and re-checked expectations. In other cases, meeting students where they are requires a resourceful, reactive approach.The two students for whom I served as a thesis committee member at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana were experienced, having already completed field research and data analysis. As they requested, I provided digital copies of hard-to-locate sources and multiple rounds of thesis feedback. Meeting students where they are enables me to provide a common foundation with which to further develop each collaborator’s unique contribution—depending on their needs.
Meeting students where they are requires sensitivity to students’ backgrounds, experiences, and social positions. Research suggests that emotional support and motivational scaffolding are important strategies for students from minoritized communities. In the service of equitable development, I prioritize student mentees, responding within the hour to their e-mails and not limiting my meeting time with them. Such relationships allow me to discuss issues of concern to students: the importance of speaking heritage languages, for example, or the politics of identity markers (Latinx or Latine?). I back up this support with a willingness to work outside the bounds of the formal research assistantship: I have edited IDEA Grant applications for my UROP student collaborators, have offered (and written) letters of recommendation, and introduced students to other faculty members to further develop their interests."
—Dr. Holley-Kline, from his mentoring statement
"During all this, Dr. Holley-Kline has supported me and my research goals in UROP and outside it as well. Realizing the love I had for research, I sought guidance from Dr. Holley-Kline about implementing my own interests into the field, by pursuing my own research through an IDEA grant. Even when I had doubts about what I wanted to do, I was always greeted with kindness and advice on what to do next with my dreams and ideas. The resources and skills I learned about were critical in continuing my journey in research and UROP, as an IDEA grant applicant and future UROP leader.
Dr. Holley-Kline's commitment to supporting diversity and acknowledging privilege is a characteristic I cannot disregard as a woman of color. As an Afro-Latina woman attending a predominantly white institution, my expectations for inclusion amongst people are generally low. I do not expect professors to actively denounce systems of oppression, recognize their privileges, or remain aware of social issues and circumstances that can affect others. However, Dr. Holley-Kline continues to exceed my hopes and has become someone I strive to be as an educator and guide for others. I appreciate how the dismantling of these oppressive systems is not another phrase, but an active effort through decolonizing academia, making it more accessible, and remaining supportive of students’ identities and backgrounds. The care and consideration Dr. Samuel Holley-Kline has for his students are characteristics other professors and faculty members should take note of and implement in their own lives."
—Michelle Evangelista, UROP student 2020-2021, from her nomination letter
The Graduate Student Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for 2021 was presented to Jennifer Harding. Jennifer mentored Emily Coston in researching "Harmonic Characteristics of Music: A Computational Approach."
"My approach to mentoring rests upon two pillars: relationship and scholarship. The pillar of relationship is built from empathy, compassion, and honoring the humanity within each of my students. The undergraduate years come with a unique set of challenges: many students are away from home from the first time, navigating the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and managing many more responsibilities than they have had before, to name just a few. For all the excitement and vibrancy of this time, students’ lives can also be overwhelming, confusing, and quite simply, difficult. Over the course of working with my students, I get a small peek into both the triumphs and challenges they are experiencing. I make sure to check in with my students regularly, and adjust both my expectations and demands based on what they are able to take on. My students have the flexibility to take on less demanding tasks when they are overwhelmed, and more challenging tasks when they have the mental bandwidth to do so. I strive to respect the boundaries and limitations of my students while maintaining a rigorous program. I hope to model grace, understanding, and integrity to my students in the hope that they carry on this practice to their colleagues, and eventually their own mentees.
The second of the two pillars is scholarship. The mentoring and advising relationship is founded on the expectation of academic and scholarly excellence. Part of my job is to pull back the curtain to reveal the often circuitous and messy behind-the-scenes view of research, analysis, and communication. Then, I walk them through step-by-step how to navigate the research process. The first problem we approach is how to ask questions.This includes how to ask a good research question to initiate a productive line of inquiry, as well as how to ask questions, evaluate answers; revise, and repeat every step of the way. Curiosity and inquisitiveness is the lens through which I encourage my students to evaluate both all other aspects of research: reading the work of others, determining how to collect data, parsing the data, and communicating results. Together, my students and I work to develop their practical skills: how to procure resources, how to evaluate those resources (especially when an article is written at too-high a level), how to synthesize existing ideas with their own, and how to communicate clearly, succinctly, and in an engaging way without sacrificing information or depth. I work closely with my students at every stage of their research, directing them towards resources, talking through articles, and editing their writing both asynchronously and in real time. My hope is that my students will cultivate both the practical and cognitive skills to continue pursuing their research questions after our time together has ended."
—Jennifer Harding, from her mentoring statement
"With this past year in UROP being my first time participating in extracurricular research, I could not have asked for a better mentor than Jennifer Harding. She is attentively invested in seeing me grow as a researcher and person, and it means the world to know somebody is looking out for me in this way. It is easy to feel like just another student in the sea of academics at FSU, but Ms. Harding provides me with the mentorship and guidance to know that my work means something and that my unique talents won't be lost in the crowd. Entering UROP, I thought I would only be working under a researcher to benefit their project, but Ms. Harding fosters my own interests and curiosity as well by putting immense time and effort into teaching me so much, purely for my benefit. I was beyond excited to join her music theory project, but what I didn’t know is that she would also help me form my own research question and give me the tools to explore it outside of the scope of her principal research.
Even though she is a rather busy graduate student, Ms. Harding is so generous with her time and attention, teaching me coding, music analysis, and running and understanding programs that pertain to both of our research. She goes above and beyond the UROP mentor requirements, and I actually feel like I am learning a whole extra class’ worth of material and skills through our time together. Ms. Harding does not simply spoon-feed me the information needed to be of service to her, but instead she puts care into intellectually challenging me and making sure I am learning, even if it means she personally gets a less-maximized benefit from my working under her in UROP.
Ms. Harding is an excellent mentor and teacher, who provides me with invaluable feedback. I can tell she makes an effort to understand my learning process so that she can meet me where I am and direct me forward from there. Ms. Harding does this so successfully because of how much she believes in my work, and it is easy to be invested in the project because of how much she believes in her own work as well."
—Emily Coston, UROP student 2020-2021, from her nomination letter