Dr. Beth Stauffer is one of our 2021 Outstanding Master’s Mentor Award recipients. This award is presented by the Graduate School to members of the graduate faculty with an exceptional record of fostering the academic and professional development of graduate students, particularly for graduate students in our master’s degree programs.
Stauffer is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. She studies how coastal phytoplankton (microscopic plant-like organisms) contribute to and are affected by environmental changes such as harmful algal blooms and depletion of oxygen in coastal waters. She also explores the relationship between human activities and coastal health, and the sustainability of aquatic ecosystems in general.
“Dr. Stauffer works incredibly hard to achieve an excellent balance of advancing her research and advancing the department, our graduate programs, and our students,” says Dr. Brad Moon, South Louisiana Mid-Winter Fair/BoRSF Professor of Environmental Science and graduate coordinator for the Department of Biology.
Stauffer has written more than thirty grant proposals over the past five years and has been awarded over 16 million dollars in grant support, including a recently-awarded 14 million dollar grant from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. A considerable amount of this funding supports graduate research assistants.
She tailors her mentorship of graduate students to the needs of each individual and their program of study.
Master’s students, she says, “must be highly employable and/or committed to further study at the end of their degree. I guide masters students towards this goal through well-crafted thesis projects and ample opportunities for professional development.”
Stauffer sets up her students for success from the beginning by developing clear plans and expectations, and ensuring they are involved at every step of the scholarship in her research program.
“She helps students learn how to write effective proposals and publications, teach and speak effectively to diverse audiences, manage labs and complex research projects, and work together with others at universities and state and federal agencies,” Moon says.
“Her experience in research and science policy makes her an ideal mentor for helping students not only to become leading scholars in their fields, but also to contribute to national and international policy on environmental and coastal issues.”
Stauffer’s graduate students have won a number of fellowships and awards, including our own University Masters Fellowship and the Richard G. Neiheisel Phi Beta Kappa Outstanding Masters Graduate award.
“Her students have been successful in completing important research, earning awards for presentations and scientific conferences, earning the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award on campus, finding excellent jobs in their fields, and serving as ambassadors who represent the best aspects of our department and university,” Moon says.
Stauffer’s commitment to effective graduate mentorship encompasses STEM outreach and accessibility efforts as well as engagement with issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
In 2016, she founded the Science on the Bayou presentation series, which highlights graduate student research to the local community. Stauffer has since organized many free events on a range of topics.
She has twice served as a co-organizer for the University’s Coastal Connections competition in collaboration with the Louisiana Sea Grant program, which awards travel funds to top graduate student talks. The competition is modeled on the Three Minute Thesis (3MT™) approach, which requires graduate students to develop concise explanations of their academic research for non-specialist audiences.
Stauffer is also active in promoting conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion within her department and the University.
Her interest in creating meaningful change is “incredibly valuable to the department as a whole, and has advanced our approach to hiring faculty and staff as well as recruiting graduate students,” Moon says.
“Dr Stauffer has also been a proponent for modifying departmental policies to better support graduate students," says Dr. Paul Leberg, professor and head of the Department of Biology. “These include accommodating hardships related to covid shutdowns and to better create an inclusive and diverse faculty and graduate student body.”
Stauffer’s efforts include working with the Graduate School by serving on the Graduate Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Campus Experience Survey and its Graduate Curriculum Standing Committee. She is also an active member of the Aspire IChange team, which seeks to address issues in diversity in STEM faculty at UL Lafayette and beyond.
This work is key, she says, to “building programs, departments, and universities that can effectively and inclusively mentor students from all backgrounds.”
“The past year has brought issues of health, racial injustice, and economic distress to the fore,” she notes.
“Through ongoing conversations, though difficult at times, my graduate students and I continue talking and working through these issues, thus making progress in our research goals while also navigating important aspects of being human in these times.”