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Outstanding Graduate Mentor Awardee Urges Professional Development

Thursday, Apr. 03, 2014

English professor Evelyn Funda is USU's 2014 Graduate Mentor of the Year

Evelyn Funda, USU's 2014 Graduate Mentor of the Year award recipient.

Evelyn Funda of the Department of English has been named Utah State University’s 2014 Outstanding Graduate Mentor of the Year by the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

“Evelyn’s influence and tireless work ethic transforms our students into dynamic, adept professionals,” said USU President Stan Albrecht. “She is an invaluable force in building strong professional and personal relationships with graduate students. Evelyn embodies Utah State’s commitment to graduate education.”

Funda, director of graduate studies for the English department, advises approximately 100 graduate students in five programs while maintaining full administrative responsibilities for students and instructors. She has served on numerous advisory committees and executive councils and has authored the proposal for a national award named in honor of her mentor.

Funda said a simple piece of advice she received from a dissertation chair while she was in graduate school has become the guiding principle by which she mentors students.

“Don’t wait to have a degree in hand to act like a professional; ‘act as if’ you are one right now,” Funda said. “Success depends on your putting away the student mindset, because succeeding in academia and professionally is more than just ‘showing up.’”

While at USU, Funda initiated and served as a graduate professional development coordinator, offering workshops on writing effective CVs and PhD applications.  One of her innovations in that position was to create an online newsletter that included faculty advice and essays written by graduate students on topics such as publishing during school and behavior at conferences.

When hired as director of graduate studies in 2011, Funda built a graduate student blog that contains job postings, calls for papers, recruitment tools, tips on the application process and life in Cache Valley, and acts as a clearinghouse for professionalization advice. Funda has written articles and presented at trainings and conferences on topics such as “Demystifying the Thesis or Dissertation Defense.”

Funda has served on more than 60 master’s committees since working at USU, mentoring students who have gone on to complete doctorates, author young adult novels, head health care organizations and teach in higher education. She has also co-authored four student essays with graduate students or former graduates, something rare in an English field where single-authorship is the status quo.

Students have repeatedly said Funda’s immersive interest and enthusiasm in their development left an impact on their career.

“The amazing quantity and quality of time and intellectual direction she graciously bestows on students makes her an exceptional mentor,” said Bonnie Moore, a 2011 graduate and current USU lecturer.

“She’s a cultivator and nurturer who is excellent at coaching students through their degree step by step, breaking a daunting task into manageable steps,” said Tyler Nickl, now a PhD student in literature and environment at the University of Nevada-Reno. “She held us to high standards but offered specific direction to help us meet them.”

Funda joined USU as an assistant professor in 1995 and has taught courses,including Women’s Western Literature, Western American Memoir and Literature and Culture of the American Farm, which incorporated non-traditional materials with more canonical texts, to create a variety of readings and stimulating discussion.

She served for four years on the executive council of the Western Literature Association and authored professional development web content for graduate students in the association. More than 50 of her students have presented work at regional and national WLA conferences.

“She emphasizes that teaching, research and service are not just important components of academic work but are in fact deeply intertwined skill sets that inform and reinforce each other,” said Matthew Lavin, a former advisee and currently an associate program coordinator at St. Lawrence University in New York state for a project on the digital humanities.

Lavin is currently authoring an essay with Funda.

“She is insistent that her advisees rigorously plan ahead, but her demeanor is always kind and empathetic,” he said.

Funda is known for her lively class discussion and unique, engaging course material. During the course of her career, Funda has routinely reached out to guide and advise students even when she is not serving on their advisory committee

“Evelyn unselfishly draws her sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in her work from the success of her students,” said Mark McLellan, vice president for research and dean of graduate studies. “She is a leader in the truest sense of the word, creating meaningful academic relationships and building our graduate offerings through inspired innovation.”

Funda points to her own modest beginnings as a first-generation college graduate as a key reason she works to help students reach their potential.

“I know how meaningful it is to have someone say, ‘I believe in you,’ even when you don’t always believe in yourself,” Funda said. “I mentor as a way of paying back the excellent mentors I had. Plus, it’s a thrill to see those students do well and to know that I’ve been a part of that. That’s a rush I’m hooked on.”

Funda will be honored at USU’s Research Gala Monday, April 7, at the Riverwoods Conference Center in Logan. The gala is part of the tenth annual Research Week, with five days of events highlighting USU’s best faculty, graduate and undergraduate researchers. More information can be found at the Research Week website

The University Outstanding Graduate Mentor Award recognizes faculty excellence in the complex process of mentoring graduate students to prepare them for productive careers. Those nominated should be effective advisors who facilitate degree completion, model sound scholarship and ethical behavior, help students understand and benefit from departmental and university resources, provide emotional support, offer constructive criticisms and involve students in publishing and other professional activities.

Related link:

USU Office of Research and Graduate Studies

Contact: Mark McLellan, vice president for research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at USU, 435-797-1180,

Writer: Seth Merrill, communications assistant, Office of Research and Graduate Studies, 801-663-3684,

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