UMass Boston Professors, Staff Honored for Mentorship
July 11, 2012
As dean of graduate studies for more than three years, Joan Liem observed the effects of mentorship on UMass Boston’s graduate students – and she decided she wanted to help the most effective faculty and staff mentors earn recognition for their efforts.
“I was very aware of how hard our faculty work on behalf of our students, and I’d been trying to think about ways to recognize that,” said Liem, now a professor of psychology and special assistant to the provost.
The Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools gives several teaching and mentoring awards each year, Liem said, and she asked the UMass Boston community to recommend outstanding mentors for the awards.
Liem collected the suggestions, but the university had no formal process to submit them. “And I felt like we needed to do more than that,” Liem said. “How could I do more to recognize the tremendous work that faculty and staff do, but also formalize the process of submitting nominations?”
With the support of the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the Office of Graduate Studies, Liem created the Awards for Outstanding Mentoring. Winners are chosen in three categories: outstanding mentoring in a master’s program, outstanding mentoring in a doctoral program, and outstanding staff support in either a doctoral or master’s program. Each honoree receives a certificate, a plaque, and a $1,000 award.
Because of a tie, four winners were named in the first year of the program. The honorees were Judith Smith, graduate program director in American studies; Cheryl Nixon, former graduate program director in English and now department chair, Karen Suyemoto, associate professor of psychology in the clinical psychology doctoral program; and Roni Lipton, associate director of the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance.
Liem said the awards process was competitive, with colleagues, students, and supervisors writing in-depth nomination letters on behalf of the candidates, who provided their own curriculum vitae with the nominations.
“They had to put together quite a substantial packet. So people would only do it if they thought very highly of the work that their colleague was doing,” Liem said.
Three faculty members joined Liem on the committee that reviewed the nomination materials of three to four candidates for each category. They reached consensus easily, Liem said, with the exception of the master’s mentoring award: Smith and Nixon were tied. Dean of Graduate Studies Zong-Guo Xia proposed that each receive the award.
The mentoring awards were presented at Graduate Convocation on May 31. Provost Winston Langley and Xia surprised Liem at the ceremony by presenting her with a lifetime achievement award for mentoring – and announcing that the yearly honors would be named after her, in honor of her 40-plus years of mentorship at UMass Boston.
Staff winner Lipton, who mentors students in her program from recruits to alumni, said, “It was very special that it was named the Joan Liem Award. It meant all that much more.”
Master’s program award co-winner Nixon earned her nomination for her work as English graduate program director, and for reaching out across departments, offering students at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies access to writing instruction from her own students.
“In some ways I was mentoring the English grad students so they could go mentor other students,” Nixon said. “It’s a multi-leveled understanding of mentoring. And it was really nice for [the nomination] to come from another department.”
As a member of the staff, Lipton said, “It was very gratifying to get that recognition. [M]y motivation and my goal, my impetus in everything I do, is that I’m here for the students, and here to help them succeed and excel. It’s nice when the totality of that is recognized.”
Posted by Eileen Nixon | Monday, July 16 2012 at 9:54 am
Both her Dad and I are so proud of Cheryl to have received this award. I am happy that Dean Liem decided to recognize faculty for mentoring students with her name on the award. We know Cheryl is very dedicated to her students.
Eileen Nixon (Cheryl’s mother)
Posted by Rosemary Finley | Thursday, July 19 2012 at 5:46 pm
Dear Prof. Nixon,
I just wanted to say congratulations on your honor. I really enjoyed your class Libraries and the Making of Knowledge in the Honors Program. I’ll never forget what i learned!