K-State Graduate School recognizes faculty for outstanding mentorship with inaugural award
MANHATTAN — Three Kansas State University graduate faculty members are recipients of the Graduate School's inaugural Graduate Faculty Mentor Award.
The $1,000 award recognizes the outstanding mentoring of graduate students. The awardees are Loretta Johnson, professor of biology, Charles Rice, university distinguished professor of agronomy, and Kaliramesh Siliveru, assistant professor of grain science.
"The Graduate School established the Graduate Faculty Mentor Award as a university-level recognition of graduate faculty who positively impact graduate student success through their exceptional mentoring," said Claudia Petrescu, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School. "High-quality faculty mentoring plays an important role in graduate student academic success, career readiness, and personal well-being."
Selection was based on nominations from graduate students and student participation in all three annual graduate student research presentation events: Three Minute Thesis, Research and the State, and the K-State Graduate Research, Arts, and Discovery Forum, or K-GRAD.
Johnson and her graduate students conduct research in the field of ecological genomics. Specifically, they study how prairie grasses respond to climate and the living environment around them and the genetic mechanisms underlying these responses.
When asked about her guiding principles for mentoring graduate students, Johnson said she encourages students to do their best science and teaching and that she strives to provide a supportive environment. Her mentoring philosophy is reflected in student comments in her award nomination.
"She truly pushes me to be both a great researcher and teacher," said one student. "The amount of support she provides for myself and the other graduate students is higher than any other professor I have experienced, and I truly don't know if I would have succeeded so well at K-State without her."
Johnson takes joy in observing her graduate students learn and grow.
"Seeing the excitement of discovery is what I most enjoy about working with graduate students," she said. "I am so grateful to be appreciated for creating an impact on graduate students."
Rice studies soil carbon and nitrogen, soil health, microbial ecology, bioinoculants, and the impacts of climate change on agricultural and grassland ecosystems. He and his students work to design agricultural systems to function more like the prairie that is climate resilient, water and nutrient efficient, and maintains soil health.
In his mentoring role, Rice strives to not only support his students' academic success but also to prepare them for a variety of career paths.
"My philosophy in mentoring graduate students is to train them to be independent scientists yet work in transdisciplinary teams," said Rice. "I adjust my approach to each student's personal and professional skills and professional goals, whether to become a researcher in academia or the private sector, an extension specialist, or a teacher."
Rice's students appreciate his commitment to supporting their success.
"Dr. Rice is an excellent mentor. He is a distinguished professor with many responsibilities but always has time to support his students," said one nominator. "He is also an excellent person that cares about our individual needs and mental health, which is something that I truly admire."
Mentoring graduate students is a highlight of Rice's career.
"Working with graduate students keeps me young in my thinking," he said. "It means a lot to have your students nominate you for mentoring them. I relish this award more than many of the other awards that I get from my professional societies."
Siliveru works in the areas of grain processing, food safety, materials handling and process modeling. His lab's work has led to the development of effective pathogen reduction mechanisms adapted by milling industries. Their work on modeling environmental and geographical conditions helps wheat farmers produce a higher yield and higher-quality product.
As a mentor to graduate students, Siliveru seeks to contribute to his students' holistic development.
"First, I work to understand their dreams for the future and their current state of intellectual and professional development," said Siliveru. "From there, I provide support to address areas in need of growth in order to achieve overall development."
Graduate students appreciate Siliveru's support of holistic development.
"I am grateful for the positive impact he has on my growth as both a student and an individual," said one student nominator. "Dr. Siliveru supports us in our career planning by allowing us to gain industry experience through internships and connecting us with key individuals that can help us pursue what we want in our career," said another student.
Siliveru values the contributions his students make to his research program.
"The enthusiasm of my graduate students to make a difference to the lives of farmers and industry partners is one of the things I enjoy most about mentoring," said Siliveru. "The ideas that they bring to the table to solve the grain processing problems amaze me. I feel so honored and humbled that my students nominated me for this award."
In addition to the award recipients, two graduate faculty were selected for honorable mention: Sajid Alavi, professor of grain science and industry, and Ajay Sharda, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering. The award recipients and honorable mentions were recognized at the annual Graduate Student Awards and Recognition Reception on April 27 at the K-State Alumni Center.