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Good Listener, Great Mentor

Chemist Hanna Reisler of USC College earns the Provost's Mentoring Award 2009.

By Pamela J. Johnson
February 16, 2010

Winner of the Provost's Mentoring Award 2009, USC College's Hanna Reisler (center front) stands with her students and postdocs in her chemistry lab. From left, Laura Edwards and Lee Ch'ng. Back row from left, Mikhail Ryazanov, Blithe Casterline and Andrew Mollner. Photo credit Pamela J. Johnson.

Winner of the Provost's Mentoring Award 2009, USC College's Hanna Reisler (center front) stands with her students and postdocs in her chemistry lab. From left, Laura Edwards and Lee Ch'ng. Back row from left, Mikhail Ryazanov, Blithe Casterline and Andrew Mollner. Photo credit Pamela J. Johnson.

A decade ago, Hanna Reisler, professor of chemistry in USC College, started a monthly brownbag lunch for women in sciences across departments, providing a place to relax and air issues.

The networking group thrives today, with Reisler still sending out reminders and supplying the cookies.

“As long as they keep coming, that means there’s a need,” said Reisler of the USC Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE) monthly mentoring sessions. “I’ll keep reminding them to come and I’ll keep bringing the cookies.”

It’s this kind of commitment that made Reisler, who co-founded WiSE at USC and chairs its advisory board, the perfect choice for the Provost’s Mentoring Award 2009. The annual award honors a faculty member demonstrating sustained success in mentoring USC faculty, postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates.

“USC relies on its mentors to create a supportive environment for its faculty, postdocs, and students,” said C. L. Max Nikias, executive vice president and provost. “Professor Reisler has done so much to help others succeed and has contributed greatly to the nurturing environment from which we all benefit.”

Reisler, the Lloyd Armstrong, Jr. Chair for Science and Engineering, will receive a $5,000 award during the 2010 Academic Honors Convocation on April 13. Her efforts with WiSE, a program committed to building a supportive environment for both women and men in sciences at USC, is only one reason Reisler won the honor.

She participates in USC’s Female Undergraduates Educating and Leading in Science — FUELS — and was an advisory board member at California State University, Los Angeles’ program for minority undergraduate students, helping them become viable candidates for admission into Ph.D. programs at first-rank research institutions such as USC.

She also served as head of the Department of Chemistry’s graduate student advisory committee and adviser to the USC Chemistry Graduate Student Association.

“Professor Reisler brings irresistible energy and irrepressible passion to mentoring in all its aspects: one-on-one, and in the creation of relevant organizational structures and events,” said Charles McKenna, chair and professor of chemistry in the College. “She is truly a mentor extraordinaire.”

For this honor, candidates must be nominated by the dean of their school. USC College Dean Howard Gillman nominated Reisler, whom he had earlier appointed as one of three directors of faculty development. In 2007, Reisler received a USC-Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

“Hanna’s reputation as an extraordinary mentor has been well-known in USC College for a long time,” Gillman said of Reisler, who joined the College in 1977, becoming a tenured faculty member in 1987. “She has done remarkable work throughout her career and continues to make vital contributions. It’s wonderful to see her leadership recognized in yet another outstanding award.”

In addition to her involvement in many organizations, her students say Reisler excels at providing one-on-one attention.

“She really cares about making her mentees better at what they do,” said Blithe Casterline, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in physical chemistry. “It’s not just, ‘How can you help me in my job, how can you help me produce more papers?’ and so on. It’s, ‘How can I help you?’ ”

Reisler, for her part, said mentors must follow one not-always-so simple rule.

“Listen,” she said. “You have to get to know the person you’re talking to. Don’t lecture. Listen to them, try to understand them. Look deeply into what they’re saying. Look into their souls and see what’s important to each individual. It’s never one-size-fits-all.”

She was elated to receive the award.

“This honor means a lot to me because this has to do with human interactions,” Reisler said. “It’s connected to the core values we have at USC. It’s people-to-people interactions that make USC special.”