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Mellon Mentoring Awards

USC is a national leader in mentoring, and sharing practices with peer institutions. Many 2014 USC Mellon Mentoring Awards went to USC Dornsife faculty in a variety of disciplines.

By Pamela J. Johnson
May 14, 2014

Professor Steven Lamy, vice dean for academic programs (center), accepts his USC Mellon Mentoring Award from Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, chair of the USC Mellon Mentoring Forum (right), and professor Oliver Mayer, co-chair of the USC Mellon Mentoring Forum. Lamy was among 11 USC Dornsife faculty honored. Photo by Ziva Santop/Steve Cohn Photography.

Professor Steven Lamy, vice dean for academic programs (center), accepts his USC Mellon Mentoring Award from Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, chair of the USC Mellon Mentoring Forum (right), and professor Oliver Mayer, co-chair of the USC Mellon Mentoring Forum. Lamy was among 11 USC Dornsife faculty honored. Photo by Ziva Santop/Steve Cohn Photography.

Eleven USC Dornsife faculty — one in memoriam — were honored during the recent annual USC Mellon Mentoring Awards ceremony.

In the academic year 2007-2008, USC embarked on a six-year partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build on mentoring goals already achieved. The effort was founded on three insights: First, mentoring will thrive only if it becomes part of the culture. Second, the faculty is the key constituency in securing long-term change in the university. Third, mentoring will thrive as faculty increasingly understand that it is the key tool for academic success.

Of more than 200 nominations this year, 22 faculty members were chosen to receive these prestigious awards.

USC Dornsife faculty who won for mentoring undergraduate students include:

•         Diana York Blaine, associate professor (teaching):  “The value of mentoring starts with being mentored: It is learning that someone else understands what you are going through. It is discovering that others have found their way down that same road. It is realizing with delight that there’s a hand to grab as you walk that fraught path yourself. Finally, it is the joy of becoming the one who extends that hand to the seeker coming up behind.”

•         Steven Lamy, professor of international relations and vice dean for academic programs: “No one is born as an effective teacher or academic mentor. Most of the time we mimic those who guided us when we needed support. As a first generation college student, I did not know many of the questions that I was supposed to ask in order to succeed as an undergraduate and I certainly did not know the answers. I did not even know what my options were after graduation. My professors were fantastic mentors and I realized that this was an integral part of teaching at the university level.”

•         Adam Leventhal, assistant professor of preventive medicine and psychology: “Like many scholars, I strive to produce high quality work that meaningfully impacts the field. I am serious about my work, but that is not the only reason (and may not even be the top reason) that I come to campus every day. Rather, it is the setting in which I produce this work, my university research laboratory, where I have the opportunity to mentor some of the most impressive, talented and kind people one could ever encounter.”

•         Lorraine P. Turcotte, professor of biological sciences:  “I believe that mentoring is a collaborative endeavor and because of this, this award also goes to the students who participated in the process. My mentoring was beneficial because the students were willing to participate in the process. Indeed, I view mentoring as an ongoing interactive collaboration between each individual student and me. My primary goal as a mentor is to develop a relationship with each student who is interested in receiving advice about professional or personal decisions that need to be made.”

USC faculty honored for mentoring graduate students include:

•         Aimee Bender, professor of English and director of the Ph.D. Program in Creative Writing and Literature: “What a fantastic job it is. I get to talk to smart, engaged, focused graduate students about their work, and writing, and literature and the writing process, and I offer opinions here and there and listen because they are so interesting! And I don’t worry about run-on sentences because this is fiction after all — and we talk about books and stories and craft and what makes a good sentence and the shape of a plot and the lift of a line. And then I get an award for it! My goodness. It’s like an award for an award.”

•         Macarena Gomez-Barris, associate professor of American studies and ethnicity, and sociology: “I take mentoring seriously because I get a lot out of the encounter with thoughtful and engaged graduate students who are working on important topics. I want to take the opportunity to thank the graduate students who nominated me from the American Studies and Ethnicity Indigeneity and Decolonization Research Cluster, a group of graduate students with whom I have worked closely over the last two years. We have benefited from mutual dialogue and engagement on racial capitalism and colonialism, especially reading their work together and also inviting leading Native American Studies scholars to campus.”

•         William Handley, associate professor of English: “When I came to USC almost 15 years ago, I had little idea how much working with graduate students would come to matter so much to me intellectually and personally. I am so grateful for this award and to the students and colleagues who nominated me and wrote about my teaching and mentorship. I am also grateful to Dornsife College for helping to bring such dazzling students into my department. It’s humbling to be honored for both the privilege of learning from them and the pleasure of their collegiality.”

•         Natania Meeker, associate professor and chair of French and Italian, and professor of comparative literature: “It is a huge honor to receive this award. I owe my career to the generosity of great mentors who do not necessarily think of themselves as such, but who understand intellectual life and work as entailing a responsibility not just to those who came before — the thinkers and writers who inspire us — but to those who come after — the young scholars who challenge us to think otherwise, and to reexamine what we think we have understood.”

•         Mark Schroeder, professor of philosophy: “As teachers, it is easy for us to fall into the fallacy of attributing differences in student performance to differences in talent, and to project that attribution of talent out to the horizon as a predictor of future merit and performance. When I was a graduate student, I actually discovered that one of my particularly senior professors took this so far as to actually still think of some of the most successful contributors to my field as sub-par, on the basis of remembered judgments formed about them as graduate students decades before.”

For faculty mentoring faculty:

•         Stephen Bradforth, professor and vice chair of chemistry: “The transition to the professoriate is more complicated than landing that first faculty position. With the drumbeat of the tenure clock always in the background, even the brightest new faculty members need a reassuring reality check from time to time so that they are spending their time wisely. I benefited tremendously from senior colleagues guiding me through my first years at USC and I have been most fortunate to pay it forward.”

In memoriam mentoring award went to:

•         Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Dallas Willard.