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Five Graduate Faculty Members Named Outstanding Master’s Mentors

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Professors Greggory Davis, Daniel Gang, Christy Lenahan, Manyu Li, and Kari Smith have been honored by the Graduate School with the 2020 Outstanding Master’s Mentor Award.

The Graduate School presents this new annual award to members of the graduate faculty with an exceptional record of fostering the academic and professional development of graduate students, particularly those in master’s degree programs.

“Effective mentorship that creates a supportive space for research and scholarship is key to graduate student success,” says Dr. Mary Farmer-Kaiser, dean of the Graduate School.

The award commends faculty members not only for fostering individual students’ success, but also for contributing to a diverse and inclusive body of graduate students.

“Exemplary mentors actively support the academic and personal success of all students. These awards recognize mentors who are actively promoting an inclusive graduate education environment,” Farmer-Kaiser adds.

Through their exceptional records of scholarship, mentoring, and service, the Outstanding Master’s Mentor Award recipients have made important contributions to graduate education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Dr. Greggory Davis is the director of the School of Kinesiology. He joined the faculty at UL Lafayette in 2013, and served as the graduate coordinator for the Kinesiology MS program before being selected to lead the School.Dr. Greggory Davis

To date, he has chaired six master’s thesis committees and served on the committees for an additional eight students. His students have contributed to research publications and have presented their research at national conferences.

“He cares about each of the students and what they are interested in or working on, regardless of their concentration. Dr. Davis clearly goes the extra mile for his graduate students,” says Dr. Jeremy Foreman, graduate coordinator for the School of Kinesiology.

Dr. Davis’s commitment to graduate students has only increased since being appointed as the director of the School.

“Over the past year in particular he has devoted countless hours providing individual attention to students that he mentors while training and supervising them in the lab, discussing research with them, listening to their concerns as graduate students, and teaching them in independent study coursework,” says Dr. Nathan Roberts, dean of the College of Education. 

Dr. Davis has worked on a number of initiatives to support graduate student success, including improvements to the curriculum and refinements to the program’s graduate student handbook. 

He stresses the importance of requesting feedback from students and actively listening to their perspectives.

“The demands and perspectives of students will undoubtedly evolve over the years and therefore, the manner in which I mentor graduate students must continue to evolve as well,” he reflects.

“The feedback I have received has shaped the philosophy that I have today and as that feedback continues to change throughout the years, my philosophy will adapt along with those changes.”

Dr. Daniel Gang is a BORSF Endowed Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, and to date has served as the advisor for some 35 graduate students, 29 of whom are MS students.Dr Daniel Gang

Dr. Gang and his students have published more than 100 papers on their joint research. His graduate students also have contributed to three US patents.

Dr. Gang successfully engages students “in all phases of the research projects,” notes Dr. Ken McManis, professor and department head of the Department of Civil Engineering.

“He has been very supportive in mentoring and encouraging his students. All speak highly of his knowledge and the quality of his advice.”

Dr. Gang has been principal or co-principal investigator for more than $9 million in grants. He names the pursuit of external funding as a valuable part of supporting graduate student participation in research projects.

“To solve diverse and complex environmental problems, students not only have to master relevant knowledge but also build up critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” Dr. Gang says.

“I believe that involvement in research is one of the best ways for students to develop such skills at both undergraduate and graduate levels.”

Dr. Gang’s high profile research, such as his work on the Wave Robber coastal erosion project, has garnered media attention and exciting opportunities for graduate students.

As the graduate coordinator for the civil engineering master’s program, Dr. Gang works with all incoming civil engineering graduate students through the admissions process and continues to serve as a main contact during their time in the program.

“My goal for graduate-level engineering education is to create independent and creative thinkers who will become competent engineers and independent researchers,” Dr. Gang says.

Dr. Christy Lenahan is an alumna of UL Lafayette’s BSN program and returned to the Department of Nursing as an instructor in Fall 2011 after receiving her MSN and practicing as a certified family nurse practitioner. She has excelled at building positive relationships with her students.Christy Lenahan

“Students appreciate Christy’s wealth of clinical expertise as an advanced practice nurse and her ability to successfully integrate her knowledge and experiences into FNP courses and interactions with students,”  says Dr. Melinda Oberleitner, dean of the College of Nursing and Allied Health Professions.

FNP alumna Chrys Thompson notes that former graduate nursing students universally name Dr. Lenahan as a positive influence.

“She assembles a learning environment that is intellectually stimulating, creative, and fun. She fosters our professional growth and education while simultaneously building our confidence and mastery of skill,” she says. 

Dr. Lenahan previously served as the NP clinical coordinator, advising students throughout their MSN curriculum.

She notes that taking students’ unique circumstances and cultural differences into account is key to helping them reach their potential.

“Through providing the type of support a student needs at the time they need it, I am able to cultivate a meaningful relationship while facilitating success through specific student goals that are reasonable and obtainable for each individual,” she says.

Dr. Lenahan’s impact is far-reaching, helping students to not only succeed during graduate school, but to best serve their patients and develop their careers.

“Effective mentors in nursing are crucial to expanding the clinical and scientific base of the profession, as mentors role model evidence-based strategies and best practices for students,” Dr. Oberleitner says.

“Christy epitomizes personal and professional attributes of a successful, inspirational, and valued mentor.”

Dr. Manyu Li joined the Department of Psychology in 2017, and has involved graduate students in a number of publications and conference presentations.Manyu Li

Dr. Li promotes her students’ success by communicating attentively, training them to be independent learners and scholars, and providing them with opportunities for continual success.

“Graduate students usually come in with much motivation and experience. However, it is unrealistic to assume that they can be independent learners from the beginning,” Dr. Li says.

“Therefore, a mentor’s clear instruction and effective communication are crucial to students’ success.”

For Dr. Li, this means providing concrete expectations for success and allowing for numerous opportunities for feedback before a student begins to work more independently.

Psychology M.S alumna Kristen Black notes, “She maintains an open line of communication with all of her students and is always respectful. Dr. Li provides a structured, learning-conducive environment, while still allowing room for creativity and independence.”

Dr. Li’s mentorship has extended beyond the psychology department. She has also worked with student researchers in fields such as architecture and mathematics.

“The cross-disciplinary work she has been involved in, as well as her research of the social nature, exhibits how she actively supports the academic success of underrepresented students,” Kristen says.

Professor Kari Smith joined the School of Architecture and Design in 2007 and has served as the interim director of the School since 2019. She previously served as the graduate coordinator for the master of architecture program.Kari Smith

As graduate coordinator, she “created an inclusive and open community of graduate student scholars. Her steady, consistent, and fair leadership created a supportive environment for our emerging professional architects,” says Michael McClure, associate dean of the College of the Arts.

Her commitment to bringing in diverse voices sets her apart as a mentor.

“From community boards to professional organizations to faculty expertise across the University, Kari is committed to opening the dialogue. This gives her students a phenomenal educational experience by allowing them to see the widest possible impact and effect of how design can impact society,” McClure says.

Professor Smith’s students have participated in the UL Lafayette Graduate Research Showcase, the Campus RainWorks Challenge sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and have presented their graduate work at national conferences.

She has been a champion of diversity efforts, and emphasizes the need to support students’ wellbeing while in graduate school. She has hosted a number of student events focused on topics such as inequality and mental health.

Professor Smith stresses the potential for mentors to positively impact their graduate students through their consistent presence and encouragement.

“Graduate students who excel in their graduate studies need to be acknowledged for their accomplishments and need someone who will promote them for awards and recognitions. The work of a graduate student is often remarkable, so it is important to support it to be influential,” Professor Smith says.

“I believe graduate education can be enhanced by accepting a greater sense of responsibility to the mentorship of graduate students, and examining how we prepare graduate students to become influential in the world as advocates of mental wellbeing and distinction in their craft.”