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Mentoring: ‘A Practice Framed By Love’

USC graduate students, professors and administrators receive honors during the third Annual USC-Mellon Awards for Excellence in Mentoring.

Mentoring: ‘A Practice Framed By Love’

As a doctoral student in physics at USC College, Amy Cassidy noticed there are few women graduates in her field. So she and classmate Katie Mussack found a way to mentor young women considering careers in physics.

The pair organized USC’s first Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. Now in its second year, the conference involves lectures, lab tours, career panels and networking with women in the sciences.

This week, Cassidy was among many honored for their outstanding efforts in inspiring others at the third Annual USC-Mellon Awards for Excellence in Mentoring.

“I have chosen to be a mentor because I know that there are young women out there who are talented and smart and capable scientists, but who may not pursue that path only because they lack the resources and encouragement,” she said.

The awards are supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. They are administered by the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching (CET) and honor USC graduate students, professors and administrators who have created an academic environment in which faculty-to-student, faculty-to-faculty and student-to-student mentoring has thrived.

During the April 17 ceremony at the University club, members of the College won the most honors, including the highest accolades in the school-wide and innovations categories.

The School-Wide Mentoring Program Award, given this year for the first time, honors excellence in supporting and maintaining a culture of mentoring.

Accepting on behalf of the College was Hilary Schor, dean of undergraduate programs.

Also accepting the award were Beth Meyerowitz, professor of psychology and preventive medicine, and David Román, director of faculty development and professor of English and American studies and ethnicity.

Román was also among those who won in the category for “faculty mentoring undergraduate students.”

“Mentoring is a practice framed by love,” Román said. “Without the love I have for my own work and the love I have for the entire enterprise of knowledge production and dissemination, it would be virtually impossible to generate any enthusiasm to participate in the shared project of learning.”

The 2007 Innovations in Mentoring Award went to Bruce Zuckerman, professor of religion at the College, in honor of his forward-looking and creative mentoring of faculty and undergraduate students at USC College and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Zuckerman and his students are collaborating on an ancient cylinder seal project with students and professors at Illinois.

“Being a religion professor, I can say I was there at the creation,” Zuckerman told the crowd. “I was there when the Mellon Foundation asked, ‘What can we do to help improve education at USC?’ We said they could help by fostering mentoring, recognizing mentoring and planting the Mellon name on it. Now the Mellon Foundation looks to us as a mentoring leader.”

The event was moderated by Martin Levine, vice provost for faculty affairs, and CET’s special program manager Pamela Parker, who read aloud statements by each winner. Here is a list of the other winners, with excerpts from their statements:


Faculty Mentoring Faculty:

Thomas Berne, professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC

"Being a mentor is part and parcel of the job that I have done as a member of the medical school faculty for the last 40 years. It is not something that I have consciously worked at. Rather, mentoring is an inseparable element of the day-to-day instruction of medical students, surgical residents and clinical fellows in how to care for patients."

Ellen-Linnea Dipprey, professor of clinical, Center for Management Communication at the USC Marshall School of Business

"Mentoring in great part is a natural expression of respect and gratitude toward those who mentored me. It is a natural joining of the forward momentum generated by those who mentored me, those who had the insight and compassion, tenacity and humor to convince me that the light at the tunnel was not a speeding train."

Hanna Reisler, Lloyd Armstrong Jr. Chair in Science and Engineering and professor of chemistry at USC College

"Why did I choose to become a mentor? Simply put, because I perceived a need and I knew that I am only one of very few women faculty in physical sciences and engineering and therefore my participation would make a difference."

Michael Waterman, University Professor, USC Associates Chair in Natural Sciences and professor of biological sciences, computer science and mathematics at USC College

"Those I counted on so much as friends and mentors are gone now, and I don’t believe that I ever thought I could repay them. But it is possible to help others on their own way. ‘Pay It Forward,’ as the movie title put it."


Faculty Mentoring Graduate Students:

Sarah Bonner, professor of accounting at the Leventhal School of Accounting, and professor of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business

"Why is it so important to treat graduate students with respect and to be competent in the guidance I give them? The main reason is that, as a graduate student (and as an undergraduate student as well), I had both superb and quite awful interactions with faculty. I want my students to experience only the good because they contributed a great deal to my personal success."

Kathleen Chambers, professor of psychology at USC College

"I have chosen to be a mentor because I believe that preparing the next generation of scholar-researchers is one of the most important functions you can serve. It assures a future that is progressive rather than regressive. And, when one values an activity, one simply makes the time to do it."

Frank Corsetti, associate professor of earth sciences at USC College

"I find greater satisfaction in seeing my students succeed than in anything else at USC. Where I see limits in myself, I see opportunity in my students. I am very proud when I can guide my students to figure out the answer to a problem that I know I could never solve myself. The ability to unlock their potential is the hallmark of a good mentor."

Ann Crigler, chair and professor of political science at USC College

"I have been very fortunate to have had several mentors in my life. Their support and guidance continue to his day. My goal is to pass along that tradition of caring, bolstering, teaching and advising as needed. I am eternally grateful to my mentors and “mentees” for sharing their lives."

Michael Dear, professor of geography at USC College

"Being a mentor is an integral part of being a teacher. If I have any special aptitude or devotion as a mentor, it is because I was myself mentored well throughout my education. Such guidance, freely given, has made all the difference in my life. It is a gift I treasure, and I try every day to pass it to others."

Ruth Wilson Gilmore, associate professor of geography and chair of American studies and ethnicity at USC College

"From my earliest days, everything I’ve done, however apparently lonely the task, happened because of the mentors who always talked with me and encouraged me as though I always fully understood every theory guiding our action. In other words, they mentored me as an equal-in-the-making, living the change in our fight against apartheid in every detail of ordinary life."

Stanley Huey Jr., associate professor of psychology at USC College

"My “decision” to become a mentor was far from altruistic. Instead, I decided to pursue a career as a scholar, and the opportunity to mentor stellar graduate students was just a pleasant by-product!"

Martin Krieger, professor of planning at the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development

"Mentoring widely reflects the mentoring I did not have when I was younger. I love the classroom. I love writing my books. But mentoring is the most gratifying part of my work. Mentoring without love is just training."

Karen Lang, associate professor of art history at USC College

"I am the first person in my family to go to college. When one is a pioneer in this way, guides are all the more important. And so it was with my undergraduate and graduate mentors. My own experience has shown the crucial role a mentor can play. In order to give back the gifts I have received from my own professors, I make mentoring a priority alongside with research and teaching."

Kwan Min Lee, assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication

"My ultimate goal as an educator is to become a mentor who can positively influence students’ lives. I cherish individual interaction with my students and encourage them to take advantage of my experience and knowledge in the area of communication technologies."

Ricardo Ramirez, assistant professor of political science and American studies and ethnicity at USC College

"I see my role as a mentor as fundamental to my role in the university. It would be hard for me to disassociate mentoring from teaching and research. Mentors are important for undergraduate students, but I think that they are even more important for graduate students because they are not simply students, but junior colleagues in the pursuit of knowledge."

George Sanchez, professor of history at USC College

"Although I have worked with all kinds of students, I have been particularly successful in working the Ph.D. students who have not come from family or personal backgrounds of academic privilege, and therefore have dedicated myself to mentorship that makes success in academia accessible to all and available to students from a wide range of racial and economic backgrounds."

Gerard J. Tellis, Jerry and Nancy Neely Chair in American Enterprise, and professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business

"I invest a great deal of time, attention and affection in the education of my doctoral students. They in turn have rewarded me with outstanding dissertations, papers with impact, deep gratitude and endless friendship. What greater reward can one ask?"

Richard F. Thompson, William M. Keck Chair in Biological Sciences and professor of psychology and biological sciences at USC College

"To me, mentoring means working individually, one-on-one, with a student. Of all my activities, mentoring graduate students (and postdocs) is the most important. I have been extremely fortunate to have had a number of truly outstanding graduate students over the years. Indeed, they have mentored me."

Kathleen Wilber, Mary Pickford Professor of Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology

"Mentoring graduate students returns far more than it requires from me, providing me the opportunity to work closely with high aptitude, motivated students who bring enthusiasm, energy, passion, a strong knowledge base, and the intangible fire-in-the-belly to our shared research interests."


Faculty Mentoring Undergraduate Students:

Lynn Swartz Dodd, research assistant professor of religion at USC College

"I envision my students of today as young colleagues; friends and supporters a decade from now, as adults with distinguished careers and full lives. If I share this vision, students view today’s hard work as a direct investment in the future and they tap into their own motivations to succeed."

Mary Beth Fielder, senior lecturer at the USC School of Cinematic Arts

"I try to give to my students the thing I most want for myself — a place of safety from which to explore and strike out with the assurance that if they fall flat on their faces, I’ll be there to help them back up on their feet. I don’t cast myself as the voice of authority; rather my goal for my mentees is that they find within themselves the clarity of their own vision."

Sandy E. Green Jr., assistant professor of management and organization at the USC Marshall School of Business

"As a young African-American male growing up in Los Angeles, I dropped out of high school and often got into very serious trouble. I now am a professor at USC. I own this dramatic turn around in my life to the time and effort of a handful of individuals who mercifully saved me from a series of extremely bad choices. Mentoring is the most powerful way to reshape and remake the world."

Olu Orange, adjunct assistant professor of political science at USC College

"My service as a mentor is made possible by my practice of making my students a part of my life beyond campus. Socially, I consider them extended family. Professionally, I involve them at every opportunity. Hopefully, each of my students will choose to serve as a mentor at some point in life. As wonderful as they all are, their mentees will truly benefit!"

Kendall Simmonds, professor of clinical at the Leventhal School of Accounting and the USC Marshall School of Business

"I believe that our undergraduate students are our most important assets. However, these assets are students who are most often excited, confused, nervous and therefore in need of direction. In many cases, attending university may be the first extended time away from home. The ultimate reward of witnessing the positive effect I have had on students’ university experiences far outweighs the short-term (time) challenge."


Graduate Students Mentoring Undergraduate Students:

David Feil-Seifer, doctoral student of computer science at the Viterbi School of Engineering

"The most important thing that you can do as a mentor is to tell your students that you don’t know everything. If a student only learns to ask me how to do something, then they’re not really learning anything on their own. It is important to admit that you don’t know things, as admitting that you don’t know something is the first step toward learning."

Doug Stenstrom, doctoral student of psychology at USC College

"One reason I became a mentor is signified by the statement, ‘If only I had known then what I know now.’ As I look back upon the experiences of my academic life, I see the obstacles I have faced, and I want to give a helping hand to those who are facing the same challenges."

Noah Schwartz, doctoral student of psychology at USC College

"I am grateful for this award, but it was never my intention to become a mentor for the sake of being a mentor. I am a graduate student. I am a scientist. And I am a human being. That is how I am able to be a mentor, and that is why mentoring is something that I cannot help but do. So despite my best intentions, I must admit: Mom and Dad, thanks a lot. You were right."