Utah State University’s Office of Research and the School of Graduate Studies named the 2020 Graduate Faculty Mentor of the Year, Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, and the Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year, Mehmet Soyer.
“This recognition is well-deserved for Melanie and Mehmet,” said Lisa Berreau, interim vice president for research. “Unfortunately, I won't be able to shake hands with them and personally present these awards, but their contributions and hard work are greatly appreciated and are integral to the research functions of Utah State University.”
Mentorship is about a lot more than teaching skills and connecting students to opportunities, according to Alexa Sand, associate vice president for research.
“Research involves a heavy load of emotional labor and compassion,” said Sand. “Great mentors like Melanie and Mehmet do the hard work to establish sympathy, trust and mutual respect with their students, building the foundation for lifetime relationships. The payoff for both of them is in the sheer joy they very evidently share with their students.”
Melanie Domenech Rodríguez—Graduate Faculty Mentor of the Year
Domenech Rodríguez has been a professor in the Department of Psychology at USU since 2000, where she examines family processes in Spanish-speaking Latinx families and, more broadly, on multicultural issues in psychology.
In that time, she has mentored 25 doctoral students—more than any other faculty member in the department. Of those, 18 have graduated and are now employed professionally in the discipline, with positions in academia, community mental health and private practice.
“My mentoring activities are predicated on the belief that mentors provide responsive guidance across multiple areas of professional, and sometimes personal, development," Domenech Rodríguez said. “I use a 'near-peer' lens; that is, I approach mentoring as training my future colleagues.”
This “near-peer” approach is literal for Domenech Rodríguez, who has co-authored 100 presentations with her students. Her impact is felt beyond the academic work of publishing papers and giving presentations, however.
“Dr. Domenech Rodríguez is so much more than a mentor,” said Samantha Corralejo, a student in the Culture and Mental Health Lab. “She is a fierce social justice warrior, advocate, leader, teacher, researcher and supporter of her students.”
Domenech Rodríguez promotes diversity and enhances educational opportunities to be more inclusive and mindful of individual and group differences; for example, 19 of her students are people of color, and she has mentored and graduated more students of color than any faculty member in the department.
Alejandro Vazquez, another student in the Culture and Mental Health Lab, said, “As a first-generation Cuban-American and first in my family to seek higher education, I am extremely grateful to have a mentor who provides a blueprint on how to be a successful Latinx psychologist and scholar.”
Mehmet Soyer—Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year
Mehmet Soyer has been a professor in the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology at USU since 2017. In just two years, he has mentored dozens of students in hands-on learning outside of the classroom, including mentoring one Undergraduate Research Fellow, sixteen Undergraduate Research Creative Opportunity grant recipients, six Undergraduate Travel Award recipients, 33 Undergraduate Research Symposium presenters and one Undergraduate Research on Capitol Hill presenter.
Soyer’s engagement with undergraduate students has led to a “dramatic increase” in undergraduate engagement university wide, Sand said.
Soyer's undergraduate students are mentored through every stage of the research process and have collaborated with him in organizing panels and sessions, in addition to their presentations at local, regional and national conferences.
Most of his current publications feature undergraduate students as collaborators and co-authors; he is currently collaborating with multiple undergraduate students on original research, journal article submissions, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, grant proposals and conference presentations.
Soyer engages with underrepresented students, including first generation, non-traditional and distance education students, as well as students of color and veterans.
His approach to mentoring is centered on deep and sustained interaction with students across socio-cultural boundaries. As an immigrant and Muslim, he uses his identity, experience and perspective to connect with students of all backgrounds, and he is active in a number of campus and community organizations that enable him to extend his mentoring activities beyond the department, including USU’s Interfaith Advisory Council and the Inclusive Teaching Committee in the Department of Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology.
“The scope and depth of Dr. Soyer’s student mentoring is astonishing,” said Derrik Tollefson, head of the Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology Department. “As a mentor, Dr. Soyer provides students with unparalleled opportunities to conduct, present and publish their research. There is simply no other faculty member who has demonstrated the same degree of commitment to undergraduate mentoring. We can think of no other person more deserving of this recognition.”
These awards are part of Research Week, the annual celebration of research and researchers at Utah State University. This year, due to the global pandemic, those celebrations have moved to a digital format. You can learn more at https://research.usu.edu/researchweek/.