Meet the winners of the 2018 graduate mentoring awards

By Kate Brody-Adams, Assistant Director of Professional Development
Thursday, July 05, 2018 10:14 AM

The Graduate Division is pleased to announce the ​winners for two awards ​honoring graduate students who have distinguished themselves in the area of undergraduate research supervision. The Fiona and Michael Goodchild Graduate Mentoring Award is available to students in the College of Engineering; Mathematical, Life, and Physical Sciences Division of the College of Letters and Science; and the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. The Dean’s Graduate Mentoring Award is available to students in the Humanities and Fine Arts and Social Sciences Divisions of the College of Letters and Science and the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.

The winners of the 2018 Fiona and Michael Goodchild Graduate Mentoring Award are: 

  • Emre Discekici (Chemistry), nominated by Javier Read de Alaniz (California Nanosystems Institute) 
  • Michelle Lee (EEMB), nominated by Hillary Young (EEMB)​
  • Payton Small (Psychological ​& Brain Sciences), nominated by Brenda Major (Psychological & Brain Sciences)​

The winners of the 201​8 Dean’s Graduate Mentoring Award are:

  • Jeremy Chow (English), nominated by Candace Waid (English)
  • Toni Gonzalez (Anthropology), nominated by Gerardo Aldana (Anthropology)
  • Jacob Kirksey (Education), nominated by Michael Gottfried (Education)

These students are recognized for their excellence in and contributions to undergraduate research supervision and for encouraging others to become involved in these research efforts. Each of the winning students receives a $1000 award. Read on to find out more about our awardees!

E​MRE D​ISC​EKICI // ​Chemistry

Research Interests

My graduate research focuses on developing new synthetic strategies for making and modifying polymers. One way that I have been approaching this problem is with the use of light. I’ve used everything from simple handheld lamps to complex LED set-ups, and even natural sunlight as an enabling tool to prepare synthetically diverse materials that may find potential use in an array of applications ranging from microelectronics to 3D-printing.

Mentoring Experiences

My role as a mentor has been so rewarding because I am in a position where I can directly impact the future of my mentee. It is immensely motivating to see an undergraduate with no prior research experience develop into a knowledgeable scientist in my field. Perhaps the most challenging part of my experience is making sure to let my mentees know that they should not be discouraged by failure. Research is intrinsically full of failure, but, understanding how to use that as a learning experience to design the next best experiment is one of the biggest messages I try to drive home. It gives me great joy to know that both my mentees plan to pursue Ph.D.s after graduating from UCSB.

What the Award Means to Him

While I have made great strides as a scientific researcher, I can say with utmost confidence that my role as an undergraduate mentor is an accomplishment I am equally, if not more proud of. Receiving this award really validates that sentiment. This award means a tremendous amount to me in large part due to the fact that my mentee and my advisor nominated me. I think it is wonderful that the graduate division and both Fiona and Michael Goodchild work together to recognize graduate student mentors. This is one way to show the UCSB graduate student body just how rewarding mentorship can be.

MICHELLE LEE // ​Ecology, Evolution, & Marine Biology

Research Interests

I am a first-year graduate student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology broadly interested in the effects of species introduction and loss on ecosystem function. As communities of plants or animals change, there are resulting impacts that can cascade upon the surrounding environment​. Currently, I'm researching the impacts of trout introduction in alpine lakes of the Sierra Nevada on lake-side plant and pollinator communities.

Mentoring Experiences

Mentoring has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had at UCSB thus far. This year, I had the great pleasure of working with a group of undergraduate researchers that make up the "UCSBees" Pollinator Monitoring Project. In collaboration with the Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration (CCBER), I worked closely with undergraduate Megan Oza (UCSB '19) to design and implement the monitoring project for native and nonnative pollinators on the UCSB campus. I am currently working with a small group of UCSB undergraduate students in the Sierra Nevada looking at plant-pollinator interactions around alpine lake habitats. ​​Their excitement for ecological questions and field research is heart-warming as I see the emotions and thoughts of my undergraduate-self in their reactions.

What the Award Means to Her

When I think of myself as a scientist, I aspire to emulate the incredible mentors and advisors who encouraged me to explore my interests and make meaningful connections with my work​. I hope to facilitate a similar experience for my mentees by providing guidance, a sense of accountability, and the confidence to successfully use scientific research skills in the future. I also aim to increase the overall inclusivity of researchers to diversify the perspectives that fuel our questions, conservation efforts, and scientific communication. Winning this award has confirmed that my goals and purpose are pointing me in the right direction as both a mentor and a scientist. Throughout my time at UCSB and beyond, mentoring will remain one of my greatest priorities and privileges.

PAYTON SMALL // Psychological and Brain Sciences

Research Interests

In general, my research focuses on how the original aims of certain societally sanctioned norms may ironically harm the people they are intended to help, and how these ironic consequences can be resolved. For example, how may implementing diversity programs at a company result in worse outcomes for racial minorities due to backlash from White employees who feel excluded? Or, how might stringent political correctness norms actually lead to increased expression of anti-​PC behavior and thinking as a form of resistance to such norms? 

Mentoring Experiences

In my first year of graduate school, I would say that I mentored undergrads as much as they mentored me. I think that my willingness to show trust in and learn from undergrads helped me to form good working relationships and made me excited to be a mentor. Shortly thereafter, I helped initiate the Psychological and Brain Sciences mentoring program which pairs graduate students with undergraduates to better connect our department. Going to the end-of-the-year departmental awards ceremony and seeing the research assistants who helped me transition into the lab, as well as students who joined the mentoring program, receive awards and graduate has been the most rewarding experience so far. The biggest challenge regarding mentoring has been balancing expectations as a graduate student with what I want to do during graduate school, which is be both a researcher and mentor. 

What the Award Means to ​H​im

I'm very appreciative that this award exists—I think that mentoring should be a celebrated and fundamental aspect of graduate school and that instead it is sometimes overlooked and often underappreciated. Receiving the Fiona and Michael Goodchild Graduate Mentoring Award reaffirms my belief that, although the research I do is important, the biggest impact I can make as a graduate student is by mentoring as many people as I can.

JEREMY CHOW // English

Research Interests

My research interests centrally include discussions of the environment as they pertain to environmental humanities projects. For example, my dissertation looks at bodies of water in eighteenth-century British literature and some of my publications include discussions that engage animal studies (particularly on the simian, after which I designed a summer course called “Chimp Lit”), drought conditions in Southern California, and fraught socio-political issues instigated by social media.

Mentoring Experiences

For the majority of my doctoral career, I have assumed an informal mentorship role for graduating students writing an honor’s or senior thesis. While my department and the university don’t have the infrastructure to enable graduate students to mentor undergraduate theses, it has been the most rewarding part of my doctoral career. The students with whom I’ve worked are intellectually curious, thoughtful, dedicated, and interested in growing their research and writing skills. The students I have mentored have written on fairy tales, horror films, Native American literatures, speculative fiction, environmental justice, maternity, critical race studies, biopolitics, trans-studies, and eroticism, to name but a few topics. The challenge is, of course, keeping up with these brilliant minds. But we remain dedicated to growing together, learning and unlearning things together, and maintaining an open mind to feedback and constructive criticism.

What the Award Means to ​Him

As I near the end of my doctoral career, I count myself fortunate to have been able to mentor a number of outstanding undergraduate students who constantly remind me why I love teaching, and why I now love the collegiate environment. My undergraduate years were spent without a mentor—someone who saw me as a person with aspirations, experiences, and a lived history—and in reflecting on this, I have dedicated my years at UCSB to ensuring that my own students don’t ever experience that. The award acknowledges this work and motivates me to continue it. But more importantly, this award is first, foremost, and always, for those students. 

TONI GONZALEZ // Anthropology

Research Interests

For my dissertation, I am conducting an archaeological and ethnohistorical study of subterranean space in the southern Maya Lowlands to explore relationships between landscapes and social, political, and cultural processes. These investigations will combine archaeological excavation with the study of Maya language texts to incorporate Maya perspectives of landscapes, which would provide indigenous representations of the environment that we can test against the lived experiences found in the material record. By incorporating indigenous knowledge as a source for theoretical innovation, this project engages socially conscious methodologies that can be reproduced in other contexts to mediate politicized relationships between researchers and subject peoples.

Mentoring Experiences

I chose to pursue higher education to make a positive impact in the world. Mentoring and teaching students is one way to make that difference. Being a non-traditional, first generation student of color, I have come to realize that I am in this position because of my professors and mentors, and therefore, would like to pay it forward. For the past three years, I have taken undergraduate students with me to Belize to conduct archaeological investigations at the ancient Maya site of La Milpa. Although working in the jungle seems like an exotic adventure, it can be very challenging. I aim to make sure that first and foremost they are happy, healthy, and safe. Archaeology fun is always a close second! After field school, the students take on group-based projects that they prepare for the annual Society for American Archaeology conference. Many of these students are now in the process of applying for graduate programs. It is so great to see them grow and fall in love with research and archaeology. 

What the Award Means to ​H​er

I feel so honored to receive this award and to have the opportunity to work with such amazing undergraduates. I could not have accomplished so much academically without their comradery, commitment to learning, and ingenious comments and questions. Without their insight I would not have been inspired to dig as deep (no pun intended) as I have into my research. I have grown so much as an individual and as a future educator. This is exactly what I want to be doing, so this award means a lot!

JACOB KIRKSEY // ​Education

Research Interests

Drawing from various perspectives and interdisciplinary frameworks, my research examines unintended consequences in educational policy and focuses on frequently forgotten student populations (e.g. students with special needs). Trained as an economist, I use quasi-experimental methods with large, secondary datasets to answer research questions and solve problems with partnering school districts. 

Mentoring Experiences

My approach to mentorship with undergraduate researchers revolves around strengths and perspectives that individual students bring to the table. This involves a mutual respect for co-learning as a research team, where any individual person may teach/know more about a particular topic than others (including me, the mentor). For example, I have one student who is a zoology major at UCSB but quickly adapted her biostatistics training to quasi-experimental methods in social science research, which involves modifying our thinking about what can be considered an experiment. 

What the Award Means to Him

Winning this award is an honor, and I think it is emblematic of how wonderful research with undergraduate students can be at UCSB. Working with undergraduates is one of the most enjoyable opportunities available to graduate students and professors on campus, and I am humbled to receive recognition for something I really enjoy doing!

Thank you!