As part of its second annual Faculty Awards Ceremony, Utah State University announced Polly Conrad as the recipient of the Undergraduate Faculty Mentor of the Year Award. Conrad is a senior lecturer in the Data Analytics and Information Systems Department in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business and the operations director of the Analytics Solutions Center.
“It's very exciting to be considered in the group of nominees for this award because I know some of these fellow faculty members, and they're offering tremendous mentorship to Utah State University students,” Conrad said. “To receive this award is such an honor, especially to represent the Huntsman School of Business and the Data Analytics and Information Systems Department, where an incredible amount of effort is put into mentoring students.”
The Undergraduate Faculty Mentor of the Year award is an annual award that recognizes and encourages excellence in academic mentoring. Each dean from USU’s eight colleges selects a nominee to be considered, with a committee choosing the award recipient. The award has been awarded each year since 1985.
Conrad joined USU in 2014, working as a lecturer in the Huntsman School of Business. Prior to her time at USU, Conrad had not thought about being a teacher, but has found that mentoring students is one of the most rewarding parts of her job. She enjoys making herself available to students for questions, connecting them with people from her network, making academic recommendations, or sharing a story from her own experience. Conrad has found it enjoyable to reflect back to her own college years and to share things that made a difference for her.
“Often times when mentoring students, I try to be vulnerable, remember what it was like to be an undergraduate student, and share experiences I had from that time in my life,” Conrad said. “They talk to me about changing their major, which internship they should accept, what it’s like for women in tech, or if they should consider graduate school. Students ask all kinds of questions, and having someone listen, share experiences, or make recommendations can be so simple but greatly impact students.”
Conrad is involved in several initiatives, both inside the Huntsman School of Business and through the university in general, where she connects with students. She enjoyed teaching USU Connections because she can grab students right as they are entering college and show them their potential.
“It's really important to connect with students when they start at USU and they are so eager to learn academically, personally, and professionally,” she said. “Whatever students think they can do when I first meet them, I always encourage them to do more.”
Conrad is involved in several initiatives that empower female students at USU, including She’s Daring Mighty Things and the creation of a Women in Tech student club. She’s also a first-generation and honors college graduate, and she enjoys working with the USU Honors program and Aggie First Scholars program. Perhaps Conrad’s favorite mentorship opportunity involves working with students in the Analytics Solutions Center. She finds it enjoyable to help students complete projects for real-world clients and see them succeed.
“We get to roll up our sleeves and work on projects one-on-one with students and in small teams,” Conrad said. “The students definitely improve their data analytics skills outside the classroom. Learning skillsets in the classroom is fundamental, but we add even more value for students by arranging for them to apply and continue to learn data skills in a business setting while working with a real client.”
Conrad enjoys working as a program mentor in the Huntsman Scholars program because she gets to work with these business honors students from their first year in college all the way through graduation, and see how they progress along the way. She then knows a variety of graduates who can be mentors to current students as well.
“I get to know Huntsman Scholars as first-year students, then I meet with them multiple times every semester in a variety of settings, so I can continue to understand their academic and career goals throughout their time in the program,” Conrad said. “This helps me better mentor them, and I always encourage them to try more, even if they fail. One of my favorite parts about mentoring and teaching, is seeing where students go and what they accomplish.”
Whatever she is involved in, Conrad loves working with and bragging about Aggie students. She says the students make her work not feel like a job.
“Aggies are so great to work with,” Conrad said. “They are so intellectually curious and they're ready to dive in to learning and tackling problems. It’s rewarding to mentor students, which makes me feel lucky to be in my role at USU.”
For more information on the Undergraduate Faculty Mentor of the Year award, visit www.usu.edu/provost/university-honors/undergraduate-faculty-mentor-of-the-year.
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