Professors Vicki Smith and Jean VanderGheynst are the first recipients of new mentoring awards from the Academic Senate’s Graduate Council.
The awards recognize "the vital role mentoring plays in the academic and professional development” of graduate students and postdoctoral students, said Kyaw Tha Paw U, professor, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources; and chair of Graduate Council.
Smith, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, received the Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award, and VanderGheynst, professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, received the Distinguished Postdoctoral Scholar Mentoring Award.
The Graduate Council’s Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar Welfare Committee presented the awards during a May 23 ceremony at the Student Community Center.
Graduate student mentoring
Five sociology graduate students and a Ph.D. alumna nominated Smith for the Distinguished Graduate Mentoring Award, expressing their “immense gratitude” to her for helping them weather their long journeys to doctorates and job market.
The students praised Smith for connecting them with research opportunities, giving insightful feedback on their work and launching a dissertation writing group; for being a role model with her ethical and academic standards; for offering a compassionate ear; and for her commitment to mentoring students from diverse backgrounds.
“Vicki is an excellent mentor, providing amazing intellectual and career support and guidance,” Brian Halpin, a Ph.D. candidate, wrote in the nomination letter. “I believe this deeper level of mentorship has been instrumental in ensuring my successful transition from applicant to researcher to professional colleague.”
Doctoral student Carmen Fortes said: “I could not ask for a better mentor than Vicki Smith. Her high ethical standards, professionalism, knowledge, and, above all, her compassion make her an example of all that’s best at UC Davis.”
Parul Baxi, Ph.D. ’15, a lecturer in the sociology department, said Smith gave her the encouragement she needed “whenever I lost momentum, restoring my faith in my project, and provided much needed inspiration to keep moving forward.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be able to say that Vicki Smith was my mentor during my time at UC Davis as a graduate student,” Baxi said. “Knowing her and working with her is one of the most treasured and cherished experiences of my graduate years.”
Postdoctoral scholar mentoring
In a letter nominating VanderGheynst for the Distinguished Postdoctoral Scholar Mentoring Award, five Ph.Ds. said she provides “the ambition, structure, technical knowledge and professional skills” that push her students to be “better scientists, engineers and human beings.”
These nominators said VanderGheynst “provides guidance where necessary while granting her mentees the freedom needed to foster creative and independent thought,” and that she encourages lab members’ interaction and boosts their skills by organizing such activities as article writing hour, scientific journal club, and safety and cleaning days.
In addition, these nominators said, she is committed to women’s and underrepresented minorities’ empowerment.
“As part of her stellar mentorship, Jean is the ideal role model for how to be a good PI (principal investigator), an effective leader, and an overall paragon of professional and empathetic conduct,” these nominators said.
VanderGheynst’s department chair, Bryan Jenkins, wrote in a separate letter: “The extraordinary passion she brings to ensuring the greatest opportunity for her scholars, her students, new faculty and virtually everyone who has enjoyed interacting with her across the campus is unmatched.”
Jenkins and the other nominators noted Vandergheynst’s support of a postdoc who was diagnosed with cancer. “While he has struggled to survive, Professor VanderGheynst has served as a source of inspiration and with him identified means to remain engaged in the research enterprise and continue to make progress when he might otherwise have abandoned hope of achieving his dreams of a successful career,” Jenkins wrote.