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Honoring Outstanding Mentors: Frank, Dovidio, and Osuji

May 16, 2016

Every year, the Graduate School celebrates three faculty members — one each from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences — for their extraordinary mentorship. This year, the award selection committee received 177 letters of nomination from grateful students. At Convocation on May 22, Professors Roberta Frank, John (Jack) Dovidio, and Chinedum Osuji were presented with the Graduate Mentor Award.

Humanities: Roberta Frank

Frank, a scholar of Old English and Old Norse literature and poetics, is the Marie Borroff Professor of English with a courtesy

appointment in the Department of Linguistics. She describes the four “secrets of mentoring” this way:

1. Always have great students. It's hard for a chef to go too wrong if she starts out with fine ingredients.
2. Treat them like colleagues. When they're ill, supply chicken soup.
3. Advise gently. Soft-falling snow sinks in deeper than sharp ice-cubes. When you see a spark of genius, do not water.
4. Encourage a sense of community and shared purpose. This is not only personally nourishing, but will give your students stories to dine out on for a lifetime.”

Frank’s students praise her enthusiastically. One wrote, “Knowing that Roberta Frank is paying attention, close attention, not only inspires me to reach beyond my limits but also provides me with the sense of security to take that very risk. ”Another noted, “Roberta proves that you can be a giant in your  field and still be approachable, kind, and sympathetic to the struggles of graduate school.”

Frank earned her undergraduate degree from New York University and her PhD from Harvard. Prior to joining the Yale faculty in 2000, she taught at the University of Toronto. She has held visiting professorships at universities in Italy, Australia, South Africa, and the U.K.

Social Sciences: John Dovidio

Dovidio is dean of Academic Affairs of the FAS and the Carl I. Hovland Professor of Psychology. He also holds appointments at the School of Public Health and in the Institute for Social and Policy Studies. His research focuses on issues of social power and social relations, and conscious and unconscious biases in the general population and within the health care system. 

“Besides its being personally rewarding to work with the brightest and most enthusiastic junior scholars, mentoring is one of the most important scholarly activities that I do,” Dovidio says. “My students, their students, and the succeeding generations of students will make contributions that are more far-reaching, creative, and practically important than any scholarship I alone could produce.”

One student who nominated Professor Dovidio for the award wrote, “As an instructor, he is entertaining and insightful, and he pushes you out of your comfort zone to think about points of view different from your own. As an adviser, he is caring, supportive, passionate about his students and their projects, and good at solving problems. He is the best adviser I’ve ever had.” Another wrote, “His wisdom, kindness, and generosity set him apart as a phenomenal mentor and role model for rising psychologists…. I always left our meetings feeling more motivated than when I walked in.”

Dovidio earned his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and his PhD from the University of Delaware. He was a member of the faculty of Colgate University for 20 years, rising to the positions of provost and dean of the faculty. He came to Yale in 2007, and that same year, the American Psychological Association presented him with the Raymond A. Fowler Mentor Award.

Natural Sciences: Chinedum Osuji
Osuji, associate professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, joined the Yale faculty in 2007. His research focuses on the physics and physical chemistry of soft matter (colloids, liquid crystals, polymers, and biological materials). He studies and elucidates their self-assembly and basic structure-property relationships.

I have been very fortunate over the years with the mentors that I myself have had,” says Osuji. “They have varied incredibly in style, but in substance they all shared the following characteristics:

Excitement — about science and life in general. At the end of the day, all we really have is our energy/our passion/our excitement.

Openness. A willingness to collaborate, to share information, to listen or share seemingly silly ideas and not shoot down truly silly ones.

Selflessness. I think good mentors are happy to see the spotlight on others. Their work in support of their mentees is often unseen and unsung.

There is nothing more rewarding for me than talking in the lab with my students, or looking at data together, or actually performing experiments together, and getting excited about the possibilities of doing ‘new stuff,’” he says.

Professor Osuji was described as a mentor who “cares deeply about each student and wants to see each one succeed.  He sees the potential in each student and helps him or her to see and reach that potential.  He pushes us beyond our limits, helping us grow as scientists and individuals.”
Another student wrote, “In my opinion, Professor Osuji’s approach to mentoring graduate students is a perfect combination of the ‘hands-on’ and ‘hands-off’ styles. I was particularly impressed by the attention and support that I received from him on a daily basis.”

Osuji earned his bachelor's degree from Cornell in 1996 and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003. For the next two years, he worked at Surface Logix Inc., a start-up company, and from 2005 until he came to Yale in 2007, was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University. 

Unrelated to mentoring but worthy of note, Osuji co-founded the MIT Sport Taekwondo Club in 2000, and represented Trinidad and Tobago, where he was born, at the World Taekwondo Championships in 2001, 2003, and 2005, and at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. In 2003, he won a silver medal at the Pan American Games qualifier and a bronze medal in the 2007 Pan American Games.

The selection committee, chaired by Associate Dean Richard Sleight, included students Elizabeth Salm (Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program), chair of the Graduate Student Assembly; Laura Brown (Music); and Christopher Geissler (Linguistics); and three faculty members, all of whom were previous winners of the Graduate Mentor Award: Professor of Economics and History Naomi Lamoreaux, Professor of Political Science Greg Huber, and Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering Jordan Peccia.