Friday, July 30, 2010

Ed Folsom, Jeff Murray, Constance Berman, and Frederick Domann earned top recognition from The University of Iowa Graduate College for excellence in mentoring graduate students.

The Graduate College Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award in humanities and fine arts was awarded to Folsom, professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS). Murray won the outstanding mentor award in biological and life sciences. He is affiliated with the Graduate College’s interdisciplinary programs of genetics and molecular and cellular biology, and is professor of neonatology in the UI Carver College of Medicine, as well as the colleges of dentistry, liberal arts and sciences, nursing, and public health. This award carries a $2,500 prize.

“It’s a terrific honor. On a personal level, it’s a symbol that what we’ve done has had an impact on people’s lives,” Murray said. “In many ways, it’s a reward for all the mentors and people at the university who take students seriously. Getting the award is an acknowledgment of the impact (mentoring) has on students and that they recognize it’s really important, and that the university values these kinds of interactions.”

Special Recognition Awards for Mentoring went to Berman, professor of history in CLAS, and Domann, professor of radiation oncology in the Carver College of Medicine. This award includes a $500 prize. The professors were nominated by their students and colleagues and honored during a ceremony Feb. 9 at the Levitt Center.

This year’s awards recognized faculty in biological and life sciences and in humanities and fine arts. In alternate years, the awards are presented to faculty in social sciences and in mathematical and physical sciences and engineering.

Adam Bradford, a presidential fellow in English, recommended Folsom for the Mentor Award. Bradford’s first meeting with Folsom occurred before Bradford set foot on the UI campus and is one he will always remember.

Bradford had just finished presenting a paper at a conference in Paris, France, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the publication of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, when a senior scholar delivered an antagonistic and dismissive critique. Folsom, co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive, immediately reached out to Bradford after his presentation. “One of my first mentoring relationships with Adam was really trying to help him put that experience in context and the relatively small stakes that were involved in what seemed to him at that early stage to be a massive catastrophe,” Folsom said.

Folsom acknowledged the value of Bradford’s core ideas and pointed out ways in which he could reframe them to make them more provocative. “What he did at the conference was huge for me, because it was first aid,” Bradford said. “It was a crisis moment.”

Folsom’s initial dream was to teach at an undergraduate liberal arts college like Ohio Wesleyan, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. That all changed shortly after he landed a job at the UI in 1976. “When I ended up at Iowa and had a year or two of graduate teaching, I realized I could never go back to teaching at an undergraduate liberal arts college,” Folsom said. “Graduate students have given me intellectual life—non-stop intellectual life—because they’re continually demanding that I know things.”

Murray, who has several appointments in multiple colleges on campus, feels guilty that he doesn’t spend enough time with his graduate students. His students, however, don’t see it that way.

“Dr. Murray is in high demand as a speaker, frequently traveling to meetings and workshops and setting up new collaborations. He also maintains clinic responsibilities in the newborn nurseries,” said Elizabeth Leslie, a graduate student in genetics. “While these responsibilities may seem to be collectively more important than the students who work in the lab, the opposite is true. He is humble, unassuming, and approachable, and loves to share his knowledge with others, particularly his students. He frequently rearranges his schedule in order to meet with students and attend their talks and presentations.”

Murray thinks of his students as he thinks of his own children.

“They very much are an extension of what you value,” Murray said. “I know I’m not going to be able to solve all the problems that I think are interesting or important, but I hope my students will carry on that interest long after I’m gone and do good in the world at the same time.”