Andrew SzeriNot all aspects of a dean’s job bring smiles; it’s hardly possible to please everyone all the time.  That said, there are events during the year that irresistibly bring a smile to my face, and make a lot of people very happy indeed.

The most highly anticipated of such events are just around the corner: commencements, a burst of successful achievements by all the students being rewarded for their hard work with prestigious degrees. Those come along in mid-May.

But we just held — on April 18 — an event that kicks off the feel-good season for  those of us affiliated with graduate programs: a celebration of the value and excellence of individual faculty members who are outstanding mentors of graduate students.  This is the sixth consecutive year that we’ve presented our mentoring awards together with the Graduate Assembly and its complementary awards for faculty.

The elapsed years demonstrate that these awards have staying power.  In fact, they’re a very tangible part of a larger trend on our campus.

Mentorship has gained an ever higher profile  at Berkeley, as more and more faculty members find ways to help more and more students in academical, professional, and even personal spheres — and are recognized for the qualities of above-and-beyond dedication and caring that fuel that vital activity.

George Breslauer, the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of the campus, made that clear to the audience at our April 18 event: “Let me tell you what a different institution this is from back when I arrived 41 years ago.  I think the campuswide Distinguished Teaching Award, which had only just been inaugurated a few years before that, may have been the only such recognition event on the campus.”  Since then, more teaching awards have been established and,  in the last decade or so, they’ve been joined by mentoring awards and the ceremonies that celebrate them.  Events like this, Breslauer continued, “reinforce the kind of behavior that we value as a community.  Recognition is not just receiving in the mail a letter of thanks.  Recognition is most powerful as a community-building exercise when it is done in front of others, when others see the acknowledgment being offered and celebrated.”

Just before EVCP Breslauer spoke, Elizabeth De La Torre, Campus Affairs Vice President of the Graduate Assembly, expressed the GA’s thanks to his office for a commitment of funds that will underwrite their Faculty Mentor Awards for the next five years.  Breslauer then gave even better news: that he would extend the funding to ten years.

I’ll list here the winners honored at our ceremony.  (More extensive coverage will follow next month, with pictures and words from the recipients and some of those who nominated them.)  They are:

The Distinguished Faculty Mentor Award (presented by the Graduate Assembly)

  • Alastair Iles, assistant professor, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
  • Teresa Caldeira, professor, City and Regional Planning
  • Craig Moritz, professor, Integrative Biology

The Sarlo Distinguished Graduate Student Mentoring Awards  (presented by the Graduate Division, established with a grant from the Sarlo Foundation of the Jewish Community Foundation)

Sarlo Award for Senior Faculty

  • Nancy Lee Peluso, professor, Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
  • Bernd Sturmfels, professor, Mathematics

Sarlo Award for Junior Faculty

  • Jake Kosek, assistant professor, Geography

In closing the ceremony,I shared more good news about two mentoring-related developments.

The first: over the last year I collaborated with the Associate Vice Provost for the Faculty  and others to put in place new “Guidelines for the Evaluation of Graduate Student Mentoring in Faculty Performance Reviews.”  This means that quality mentoring, which had not been accounted for in any formal way, will now be  more properly considered in faculty performance reviews.

The second: this summer we’re piloting a new program that will take the model of faculty mentoring of graduate students one step further.  It will pair advanced graduate students with undergraduate students to work together on research projects of mutual interest.  The program is called SMART, which stands for Student Mentoring And Research Teams.  We’ll start with 20 teams in two departments, History and Physics, and SMART will cover stipends, research supplies, conference travel, and the like.  Assuming this summer goes well, we hope to double the pilot program in size for the summer of 2013, with funding from generous supporters.

As you can see, mentoring is a rising star at Berkeley. Its effect is great students made even better.


Best wishes,

Andrew Szeri signature

Andrew J. Szeri
Dean of the Graduate Division