Meet the winners of the 2019 Graduate Mentoring Awards

By Kate Brody-Adams, Assistant Director of Professional Development
Tuesday, July 23, 2019 10:00 AM

The Graduate Division is pleased to announce the ​winners of 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 2019 Fiona and Michael Goodchild Graduate Mentoring Award are: 

  • Thomas (Alex) Johnson (​Earth Science), nominated by​ Professor John Cottle (Geology) 
  • Eric Jones (​Physics), nominated by Professor Jean Carlson (Physics)
  • Nick Sherck (Chemical Engineering), nominated by ​Professors Glenn Fredrickson and Scott Shell (Chemical Engineering)

The winners of the 201​9 Dean’s Graduate Mentoring Award are:

  • Monica Cornejo (​Communication), nominated by Professor Jennifer Kam (Communication)
  • Avi McClelland-Cohen (​Communication), nominated by ​Professor Karen Myers (Communication)
  • Mallory Melton (​Anthropology), nominated by ​Professor Amber VanDerwarker (Anthropology) 

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!

THOMAS (ALEX) JOHNSON // Earth Science

Research Interests

Earth’s major mountain belts are the surface expressions of millions of years of interconnected subsurface processes that result from the collision of different tectonic plates. ​Since these processes cannot be directly observed, I use a number of different methods, both in the field and the lab, to reconstruct the evolution of mountain belts and to understand how continental crust is formed and modified through time. The areas where I currently work include the central Appalachians, the Nepal Himalaya, the Antarctic Miller Range, and the Zagros mountains in Iran, but I am always looking for new mountain ranges to visit!

Mentoring Experiences

Over the course of my graduate career, I have had the opportunity to experience several different facets of mentorship. During my own undergraduate education, I was always pushed to become the expert, to teach my advisors while they were teaching me, and I am proud to say that each of the students I have mentored over the past few years have become the experts, taking the seeds of my initial input and becoming highly skilled and knowledgeable researchers. In doing so, our relationships invariably changed from that of the mentor-mentee to one of friendship and collaboration. While this metamorphosis is undoubtedly the most enriching part of mentoring undergraduates, it also gives birth to the most challenging—letting go once the experience is over. After watching successive generations of students complete incredible projects and graduate, I simply miss them once they’re gone.

What the Award Means to Him

When I was notified that I was one of this year’s Fiona and Michael Goodchild Mentoring Award recipients, I was left speechless. Although I try to be as supportive and helpful as possible, I have always felt like my students deserve more. But to know that they thought highly enough of me to nominate me for this reward, it means a lot. I greatly appreciate the honor and the recognition, but even more than that I appreciate the opportunity to work with such talented undergraduates and greatly look forward to seeing their future accomplishments similarly lauded.

​ERIC JONES // ​​Physics

Research Interests

I work to describe the gut microbiome—the complex microbial ecosystem that dwells within us—with ecological models. Since many human diseases are associated with altered microbiome compositions, an emerging field of medicine seeks to alter the microbiome in order to promote human health. To inform these therapies, I develop theoretical dimensionality-reduction tools and work with experimental model systems to quantify the link between microbiome composition and host health.

Mentoring Experiences

I am lucky to work with and mentor two gifted undergraduate physics majors. In ecological terms, I would describe our relationship as "mutualistic": I have learned how to identify, communicate, and delegate tractable subproblems within my research, while they have developed their programming, technical writing, and communication skills. As graduate mentor of the Undergraduate Diversity and Inclusion in Physics (UDIP) club, it has been a pleasure to watch the members of the club become leaders of the physics community and foster camaraderie within the department.

What the Award Means to H​im

The career trajectories of undergraduate students are inspired by the research and professional skills that they learn through mentorship. I am grateful to Fiona and Michael Goodchild for recognizing and celebrating these mentors with this generous award. As an undergraduate, I was supported by incredible mentors that prioritized my development as a researcher and prepared me for graduate school, and I am fortunate that as a graduate student I can pass on what I learned. It is a great honor to receive this award and to work with such outstanding students.

NICK SHERCK // ​Chemical Engineering

Research Interests

My research is centered around soft matter systems relevant to industrial and consumer products, e.g. paint, personal hygiene products, preceramic materials, etc. Of particular interest are polymer-colloid systems; they are ubiquitous in soft matter. Developing an intuition and understanding of these systems using computer simulations is challenging for two reasons: (1) there are multiple spatiotemporal scales that span several orders of magnitude, and (2) there is a lack of reliable experimental data to parameterize computational models. To overcome the first problem, we are using a multiscale framework that couples particle and field-theoretic simulations – the latter being pioneered here at UCSB in the Fredrickson group. To tackle the second problem, we are using atomistic simulations that use existing classical force-fields – information on how atoms and molecules interact – to parameterize larger-scale field-theoretic simulations with a powerful coarse-graining framework developed in the Shell group at UCSB.

Mentoring Experiences

As an undergraduate, I couldn’t wait to start research. As eager and excited as I was, I quickly learned that I needed to rely on the graduate and post-doc mentors around me to be successful. Now I am that patient, encouraging mentor to an undergraduate researcher that I, not too long ago, looked to for help and guidance. The shoe is on the other foot, and it is my turn to pay-it-forward. I truly like working with and mentoring undergraduates. I think this is mainly because I like to get into the details with someone, and, as one can imagine, having undergraduates working with you presents many an opportunity for detail-oriented discussions. My reward is seeing the enjoyment they get in trying something for the first time. By the end of the quarter it is always very rewarding to see their research contributions, how much they have learned, and how they have challenged me to try new things. I see my task as a mentor to help nourish them as they begin to conduct research and set them up to be as successful in the short time they have as they can be!

What the Award Means to ​H​im

I see this award as an affirmation of the relationships I was able to cultivate with my undergraduate students and the amazing work they were able to achieve in a short time! This would not have been possible without the unquestioned support by my academic advisors, who always encouraged me and would help seek out good undergraduate student candidates. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, which is no less true here: it takes a dedicated team to cultivate a future researcher!

MONICA CORNEJO // Communication

Research Interests

My research interests include studying stress, resilience, privacy management, identity, and family relationships of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Specifically, I explore how an undocumented status influences the communication of undocumented immigrants in various contexts (e.g., family). Ultimately, I aim to utilize my research to create new resources and interventions that will benefit undocumented immigrants’ social mobility and interpersonal relationships.

Mentoring Experiences

My experience mentoring undergraduate students has been amazing! Through fostering a mentoring relationship with my students, I have been able to understand their goals and aspirations, so I can better serve them in helping them achieve their goals. This has led to the reward of having the opportunity of paying it forward through mentorship, so eventually my students will also mentor their own students. I strongly believe that doing this will create new paths for students to succeed—especially underrepresented students who experience a disparity of resources. Moreover, another reward of mentoring has been the ability to see my students obtain new opportunities, and I have been able to see them interpersonally and professionally grow with these new successes. One of the challenges of mentoring is making time for my students. They are a priority as I navigate my graduate program—and they will continue to be a priority as I start my career soon— because they are the future, but it’s always challenging to ensure that I give them the time and attention that they deserve given my workload. Nevertheless, although this is a challenge, I am always working to ensure that my students’ needs are met.

What the Award Means to ​Her

Winning this award means that, as an academic community, we are placing value in mentoring students, which I believe is a necessary criterion to ensuring the success of our students. This is especially meaningful to me given that UCSB is a Research-1 university, and research is our priority.  

AVI McCLELLAND-COHEN // Communication

Research Interests

My research focuses on the communicative practices involved in grassroots organizing for social change—specifically, how do crowds of individual people engaged in protest develop into organized collectives working together to impact the social structures around them. What communicative processes are involved in constituting an activist organization, how do activists manage tensions such as the need to employ and balance both formal and informal structures, and how do personal relationships among activists contribute to the everyday work they do in their communities?

Mentoring Experiences

Working with undergraduates is the most rewarding part of my academic life and I’m fortunate to have had opportunities to develop close mentoring relationships with a growing number of students. I’ve been able to bring together several of my mentees on a research team, providing a context in which they can develop their skills in a rigorous research context while also receiving and giving significant social support. While some of the team’s tasks involve working with my dissertation data, we also collaboratively develop and carry out side projects whenever possible—several members of the team even recently had a paper on the #MeToo movement accepted to the National Communication Association annual conference. My favorite part of working with undergraduates is seeing the outstanding things they can accomplish when empowered to express their own ideas in an environment that is both challenging and supportive. I also love seeing the support and guidance they provide for each other as members of a team.

What the Award Means to ​H​er

The most touching thing about winning this award is that I was nominated by a mentee who recently graduated. Catherine was an invaluable leader (and founding member) of the research team—she’s contributed so much to my research and to my development as a mentor, and I’m honored to know that I was able to contribute to her growth as a thinker and a researcher. I think that because of the many pressures of graduate school and the multiple directions in which grad students are pulled, we aren’t always rewarded or recognized for the time and energy we devote to mentorship—but the benefits of mentorship work are deep and ripple out as our mentees grow and become mentors themselves. It means a lot to have that work formally recognized.

MALLORY MELTON // Anthropology

Research Interests

I am an anthropological archaeologist who uses plant remains to investigate daily life amidst major sociopolitical changes that took place in the New World, such as colonial contact and urbanization. I have in progress or completed projects in the Midwestern/Southeastern United States, California, Peru, and Guatemala, where my dissertation sites are located. I use both burned macrobotanical remains (that you can see with the naked eye) and microbotanical remains (starch grains and phytoliths) to reconstruct diet at the household level, facilitating intra-household comparisons that can shed light on social relationships and sociopolitical dynamics in the settlement as a whole. 

Mentoring Experiences

I was lucky to have very dedicated faculty mentors in my undergraduate program at UNC Chapel Hill who provided me with a degree of guidance that I did not previously have in my life. When I entered graduate school, I had a strong drive to give back the amazing support I had received. I am a first-generation student, a former McNair scholar, and a student with disabilities, so I felt that it was especially important to support students from diverse backgrounds and demonstrate to these students that it is possible to be successful in academia in spite of (and sometimes because of) the personal hardships you have overcome. I am proud to say that in my five years at UCSB I have mentored 16 undergraduate students in the Integrative Subsistence Laboratory, including nine students from minority backgrounds, two first-generation college students, and three non-traditional students. One of the most rewarding parts of the mentorship process is seeing the students become independent in their work, take ownership of the project, and start generating creative solutions to problems they have encountered along the way. I also enjoy watching students progress over the years and supporting them in their pursuits, whether they are in archaeology or other fields; seeing them graduate is a priceless feeling.

What the Award Means to H​er

Winning this award represents one of the most important accomplishments in my graduate career. It means so much to be honored for the work that I do with undergraduates. Mentoring and advising students is the most fulfilling aspect of my career as a graduate student, and it plays a major role in my teaching philosophy. I have already grown so much personally and professionally from mentoring and I owe it all to the bright undergraduates that I am grateful to work with every day. I would like to dedicate this award to two of my former undergraduate interns (UCSB alumni) who passed away this year, Tyler Collins and Matt Medeiros. To everyone who had the pleasure of knowing you, you will always be missed but never forgotten.

Thank you!