Developing future leaders and colleagues—graduate mentoring at the University of Delaware
Mentoring at the graduate level has been described as
guiding students from being primarily consumers of
knowledge, to becoming future practitioners, scholars
and collaborators in the field. These UD faculty and
graduate alumni are exemplars of the process.
Graduate students across UD engage in leading-edge research
with their faculty advisers, especially in the sciences and
engineering, where they may have the opportunity to join a faculty
member's research lab. While furthering the group's ongoing
research, they gain hands-on experience in addressing the
important research questions of their chosen field.
Guna Gurazada and Blake Meyers
at Meyers' lab
[Photo: Ambre Alexander]
Since 2002 when he joined UD, Professor Blake Meyers has
mentored and provided research opportunities for more than 40
graduate students and postdocs who have been a part of his
internationally known research in plant genomics. The Meyers lab is one of 20 multidisciplinary faculty research groups housed at
the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI), which provides
state-of-the-art facilities for applied life science research through
a partnership of government, academia and industry.
Meyers views research collaboration as one of the key learning
experiences gained by graduate students working in a research
group like his. "Science is as much about people as it is about
knowledge. The type of work we do involves extensive interactions with groups of scientists who could be in the lab next door, or could be on the other side of the planet." observed Meyers. "Our work is greatly enhanced by
the rapid sharing of data and ideas, and establishing those
interactions requires professional relationships that develop trust
and even friendship."
"I see one of my roles in teaching and leading students—beyond
the more obvious role of helping them develop intellectually—
as helping them develop the skills to independently establish these
working relationships. Those skills often lead to new projects,
grants, career positions and discoveries," added Meyers, who is the
Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman
Rosenberg Professor of Plant and
Soil Sciences and department chair.
As a graduate student in computer and information sciences at
UD, Guna Gurazada was a research assistant and later a bioinformatics
specialist in the Meyers lab, participating in the development and
application of computer science algorithms and methods to address
the complex data sets involved in studying plant genetics.
Now a researcher in the DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred crop genetics research group, Gurazada credits his time in the Meyers lab with
providing the interdisciplinary background leading to his eventual
specialization in bioinformatics. "DBI offers a unique ambience,
bringing together researchers from varying backgrounds to work
collectively toward a common research goal," said Gurazada. "One
thing I love about my work is the ability to contribute to the plant
research community through the application of my skills, coming
from a completely different background. It is extremely gratifying."
"Guna epitomizes the interesting paths that some of our
graduates have followed," said Meyers. "It's exciting to watch the
achievements and impact of those who've left my lab. I suspect that
most faculty members would agree that tracking the success of
former students and postdocs is one of the most satisfying parts of
the job, as it is one of the most direct ways to measure the impact
on our students and former lab members."
Adrienne Harding and Eileen Grycky [Photo: Kathy Atkinson]
"Predestined to build bridges between music and dance"—
that's how a University of Salzburg international report described
Adrienne Harding in her advanced interdisciplinary studies while a
Fulbright scholar there, exploring the implications of 18th-century
social dance as it pertains to musical pedagogy.
Completing a master of music in flute performance at UD,
Harding had also taken up ballroom dancing, eventually training,
competing in and winning several national championships. "I began
to synthesize my teaching and interpretive choices from both
disciplines," said Harding. As she explored opportunities to study
abroad, she was drawn to the Fulbright. "There was no question
who I would ask first, to support me in this," said Harding.
Associate Professor Eileen Grycky has been Harding's flute
instructor from the beginning. They met when Harding was a high
school student in the Delaware Governor's School for Excellence flute program led each summer by Grycky, who was thrilled when
Harding chose to study at UD.
Grycky teaches individual flute students at UD, as well as coaches
them in repertoire class and chamber ensembles. "I affect fewer
students, but the relationship I have with them, and the work I do
with them, is very intensive and one-on-one," noted Grycky, who has
received UD's Excellence in Teaching Award. "Like all teachers, I am
passionate about my subject. But careers in music are difficult to
navigate," stressed Grycky. "One has to mix talent, extraordinary hard work and confidence in one's own musical voice with the realities of
finding employment in the field."
"It's very important to learn technical expertise," explained
Harding. "But what I've also gained from Eileen as a teacher and
mentor is an amazing capacity to be a self-thinker and to be my
own person, musically. I hope I also inspire my students to use other
disciplines and sources to inform their choices for creativity—dance,
sports, whatever's in their life," explained Harding. "That unique 'thing'
becomes your voice, and that's something no one else has."
Added Grycky, "In the music department, we value our graduate
students' ability to mentor and inspire our undergraduates. I feel
especially fortunate to be able to work with students like Adrienne.
These exceptional students are not only gifted musicians but also
eager to learn and completely committed to their art." In addition
to teaching in UD's Community Music School and in the music
department, Harding has served on the board of several
community arts organizations.
Advancing education leadership in Delaware
Bob Hampel and Freeman Williams
[Photo: Kathy Atkinson]
As a longtime faculty member in the School of Education and a
past director, Professor Bob Hampel has been an adviser to some 48
doctoral students since 1986, receiving UD's Outstanding Doctoral
Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring Award in 2009.
"For many of the incoming doctoral students—often school
principals and administrators—it's clear they're on a path to
becoming the future leaders in Delaware education," noted Hampel.
"Pursuing their graduate education is just another outgrowth of
their commitment and talent."
"I think it speaks volumes that so many who Bob mentored are
successful educational leaders," said Williams. "He really focused on
the fact that we were active practitioners, taking advantage of our
experience in the workplace and applying it in the academic world."
Hampel sees thesis advisement, especially topic selection, as one
of the most crucial aspects of the mentoring process. In the Ed.D.
program, dissertations take the form of an "executive position
paper" exploring a significant and timely issue in education. "I think
it's critical that candidates analyze not just any problem, but one
that matters both for them and their peers, where their colleagues
will want to know what they've learned."
Fitzgerald, Holodick and Williams all studied issues in their own
school or district: in-school suspension policies and at-risk students,
effectiveness of instructional strategies for high school special
education students, and the "RE:Learning" school reform initiative,
respectively. "It's very satisfying to work with individuals who are in
a position not just to study a topic, but to do something about it,"
reflected Hampel, who chaired their thesis committees. "They bring
a tremendous amount of firsthand experience to the conversation,
and within the academic setting, they have an opportunity to
reflect upon, analyze and compare those experiences with their
peers and with the research."
Fitzgerald concurred, "The relationships I developed in my classes
expanded my understanding of different facets of educational
leadership, and the one-on-one conversations with my professors
truly impacted my growth as a leader." Added Holodick, "Bob was a
great facilitator in the learning process. He became and has remained a mentor to me."