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K-State Graduate School recognizes faculty for exceptional graduate student mentoring

Monday, May 6, 2024



MANHATTAN — Two Kansas State University faculty members have been recognized for outstanding mentoring with the Graduate Faculty Mentor Award.

Ajay Sharda, professor of biological and agricultural engineering, and Susmita Rishi, assistant professor of landscape architecture and regional & community planning, each received the $1,000 award from K-State's Graduate School.

"High-quality mentoring is important for graduate students' academic success and their preparedness for the job market," said Claudia Petrescu, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School. "A positive mentoring experience can also impact graduate student well-being and overall satisfaction with their K-State experience. This award serves to recognize graduate faculty who have demonstrated a commitment to holistic graduate student success."

Award recipients are selected based on nominations from graduate students and their students' participation in three annual research presentation events: the Three Minute Thesis Competition, the Research and the State symposium, and the K-State Graduate Research, Arts, and Discovery Forum, or K-GRAD. Sharda and Rishi have consistently supported their graduate students' participation in research forums, and their exceptional mentoring was evident in the nominations from their students.

Ajay Sharda

Sharda's research focuses on the development, analysis and experimental validation of control systems for agricultural machinery systems. His work has a variety of emphases, including automation, sensor testing and development, mechatronic systems, computer vision, artificial intelligence, data solutions and thermal infrared imaging. He also serves as director of research for K-State's Institute for Digital Agriculture and Advanced Analytics.

Sharda's mentoring philosophy is centered on developing critical thinking skills and instilling in the students an ability to integrate the theoretical and practical world.

"I believe students do not just need to be educated but also mentored so that they recognize the value of opportunities that exist during their graduate school years and the deep effect their response to these opportunities can have on their future satisfaction and success," Sharda said.

Graduate student nominators said Sharda fosters an environment where students feel comfortable expressing research ideas, which promotes creativity and innovation, and that he encourages the development of both technical and professional skills among his graduate students.

"Dr. Sharda's mentorship cultivates a nurturing environment where students like me thrive academically and professionally," said one student nominator. "His commitment to fostering individual development and instilling confidence leaves a lasting impact on his mentees, shaping us into successful scholars and professionals."

Sharda said that he's humbled to be recognized with this award, and what drives him every day is seeing his students grow their technical and soft skills to be leaders in their fields and valued team members.

Susmita Rishi

As an engaged urban scholar, Rishi's research interests lie at the intersection of housing, the social production of home, informality and southern theory. Her projects focus on understanding spaces, particularly the space of the home from the perspective of marginalized urban residents.

"My ultimate intention through all of my teaching and mentoring is to ensure that my students become critically engaged, reflexive, ethical, and effective planners and built environment professionals," Rishi said. "My mentoring and teaching pedagogy is heavily influenced by bell hooks' synthesis and evolution of Paulo Freire's notions of engaged pedagogy. I lead with kindness and love while holding all my students to a high standard, and I provide them with skills, tools and resources that will help them to be successful not just in school but in life after."

Graduate student nominators said Rishi provides exceptional academic mentoring, leads open conversations about career planning, creates a sense of belonging and well-being, and encourages not only academic work but also personal and professional development.

"I have had a wonderful graduate school experience because of Dr. Rishi, and my research has extended in scope and audience far more than I ever thought possible," said a student nominator. "She knows how to tailor her teaching and guidance to individual students' needs."

Rishi said that it's an honor to be recognized for fostering growth and development in those she mentors.

"The fact that I was nominated by my graduate students is extremely gratifying and a testament to the value of investing time and effort into guiding our students through graduate school with kindness and love," she said. "I am grateful for the continued opportunity that my position at K-State allows me to continue supporting and inspiring others in their journey."

In addition to the award recipients, three graduate faculty members were selected for honorable mention: Chelsea Spencer, research assistant professor in applied human sciences; Manreet Bhullar, research assistant professor in horticulture and natural resources; and Behzad Ghanbarian, associate professor in geology.

The award recipients and honorable mentions were recognized at the annual Graduate Student and Faculty Recognition Celebration on April 28.

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Graduate Faculty Mentor Award


Ajay Sharda

Ajay Sharda, professor of biological and agricultural engineering. | Download this photo.

Susmita Rishi

Susmita Rishi, assistant professor of landscape architecture and regional & community planning. | Download this photo.

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