Three Recipients Named for Inaugural Outstanding Graduate and Professional Student Mentoring Awards for Faculty
The Graduate and Professional School has announced the winners of its inaugural Outstanding Graduate and Professional Student Mentoring Awards for Faculty. These awards recognize and honor acknowledge and honor those who have enjoyed outstanding success in mentoring graduate and professional students at Texas A&M University.
Awardees were first nominated by their students or colleagues and then selected by a panel of judges from the Graduate and Professional School. The call for nominations included the following criteria for consideration:
- Full-time faculty members at Texas A&M University who have successfully mentored a cadre of graduate and professional students at the master’s or doctoral level
- Developed reputation for facilitating student learning by making complex ideas understandable and meaningful to students
- Demonstrated establishment and maintenance of high academic standards
- Record of service as a positive role model, with personal integrity, high ethical standards, and achievable standards for personal excellence
- Consistency in guiding students regarding resources within and outside the university, conflict resolution, and advocacy for completion of the program of study in a timely manner
- Substantive influence on the academic and professional pursuits of students that may include funded research, co-authorship on publications, and co-presentations at national or international conferences
- Embodiment of the competencies associated with successful mentoring, including: maintaining effective communication, aligning expectations, assessing understanding, fostering independence, promoting professional development, and addressing equity and inclusion.
- Demonstrated continuing success as a mentor over a significant portion of their career
Awardees received a framed certificate and a $500 award.
Nominations reflected the high level of graduate mentoring happening at Texas A&M, explained Julie Harlin, director of the Graduate and Professional School’s Graduate Mentoring Academy (GMA): “We planned to present two awards, but we received so many impressive nominations – twenty in total -- that we decided to expand and present three awards. I wish we could have given twenty,” Harlin said.
The common thread among the awardees, Harlin continued, is the relationships they work to create. “I often share at GMA sessions that strong personal relationships are at the heart of every successful mentoring experience,” Harlin said. “Our winners – and all the mentors nominated – exemplify that. Together, they are helping advance a student-centered environment at Texas A&M, building strong relationships with our students, treating them as individuals and supporting them on the paths they have chosen so that they can reach their potential.”
The recipients of the 2023 Outstanding Graduate and Professional Student Mentoring Awards for Faculty are listed below (bios compiled from nomination packets):
Walter Peacock – Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning
Dr. Peacock has served as Professor in Texas A&M University in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning for twenty years. Dr. Peacock incorporates students as co-researchers, co-proposal writers, and co-authors on all of his research projects. Since beginning at Texas A&M, 74% of his peer-reviewed papers are co-authored by students or former students, including all papers in the past 5 years. Over his whole career, nearly 60% of his publications are co-authored with students.
Dr. Peacock’s mentoring is not limited to only students he chairs. He continues to publish with many other students, write letters of recommendation, and provide mentoring advice during calls and conference meetings.
One of his student nominators said of him: “He is absolutely one of a kind! He wrote letters of support and recommendations on numerous occasions for me, which I often felt I received on account of his letters. He has the innate capacity for giving undivided attention when you are with him. His love for his students and the ability to have fun while also having the deepest, most serious conversations about field research or complex theories, or data analyses are absolutely remarkable and worth emulating. There was no other professor I have ever met with whom I could be so informal or formal, as the setting required, and that is a true quality. I hope I can give the same attention to my students.”
Dr. Peacock is a champion of equity, tirelessly advocating for underrepresented students in the hazard and disaster research field. He has mentored students from a variety of backgrounds and countries – from South Korea to the Middle East to the Caribbean and the U.S. In 2014, he established Texas A&M University as the first – and most successful – satellite partner for the William Averette Anderson Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding diversity in the field of disaster management.
Dr. Radhika Viruru – Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture
The ways in which Dr.Viruru has contributed to supporting the graduate students and faculty in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture (TLAC) are numerous and significant. Currently a clinical full professor, Dr. Viruru has been a valued member of the faculty since 1997. Her areas of research include early childhood education and online education. In addition to teaching and research, Dr. Viruru has held several administrative roles in her department. She is a highly accomplished educator and has been repeatedly recognized by the School of Education and Human Development, Texas A&M University, and the Texas A&M University System for teaching excellence, which, given the graduate programs with which she is involved, includes a significant amount of mentoring.
What makes Dr. Viruru so distinctive as a faculty member is that she profoundly understands that being an effective and successful teacher cannot be separated from the mentoring involved in preparing graduate students for a professional career. One former student wrote, “Dr. Viruru is unequivocally transcendent in her commitment to overall student development and success, dedication to continuous innovation in teaching methods, and enthusiasm for guiding students to achieve academic and personal outcomes. Dr. Viruru’s remarkable acumen for instruction is rivalled only by her tremendous gifts as a pioneering, reflective mentor.”
The current graduate advisors who work closely with Dr. Viruru and the Ed.D students affirm Dr. Viruru’s role in the success of not only the faculty and students who participate in the program, but also the program itself. In a collective nomination they stated, “Dr. Viruru is an innate leader and empathetic mentor who curates her advising strategy to each student that she is assigned. A great testimony to Dr. Viruru’s care towards students in our Ed.D. program is the annual two-day retreat that she oversees, where students are invited to Texas A&M and into her own home for fellowship and degree progression. These non-traditional doctoral students are given a true example of the selfless service Aggies strive to provide. The results of her dedication to her students and our programs have led to substantial improvements in the Ed.D. and are shown by the skyrocketing rankings in U.S. News and World Report, going from being ranked 72nd to top 5 in just four years.”
Moreover, Dr. Viruru is an extraordinary mentor, unequivocally devoted to the academic success and well-being of her colleagues and students, including those who were undergraduates at Texas A&M but elected to pursue their graduate work at another institution. Dr. Viruru continued to offer her guidance and mentorship to all her students. She is celebrated for her welcoming disposition, her wisdom and the guidance she offers when issues have arisen not only with graduate students but also with faculty, as well as her gentle and caring demeanor, which governs the advice she provides. Her approach is always productive, positive, and caring.
Dr. Bruce McCarl – Department of Agricultural Economics
Bruce McCarl, University Distinguished Professor, Regents Professor, Presidential Impact Fellow, and Agrilife Research Senior Faculty Fellow in the Department of Agricultural Economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences, has demonstrated extraordinary mentoring of graduate students throughout his career, including just over 36 years at Texas A&M University.
In academia, former students are faculty and researchers at numerous universities including over ten land-grant institutions, as well as some of the world’s most highly ranked institutions like MIT, Duke, Yale, and the University of Hamburg, just to name a few.
In industry, his students have become vice presidents or head data scientists at TIAA-CREF, American Express, AAA Insurance, and ICF. His former students have become distinguished professors, deans, other elected leaders of their fields and major professional associations.
One former student states, “Dr. McCarl encouraged and supported my peer-reviewed publication efforts and enhanced my professional stature in environmental economics. Then he leveraged his network to support my job search activities. Thanks to this support, I now lead efforts across federal agencies and executive offices regarding research on critical environmental issues.”
Across his student body many have commented on their appreciation for his mentoring and its long-lasting effect. Another former student said “Dr. McCarl made sure to provide plenty of technical support and material for my growth as a researcher and educator. He started with active co-authorship and detailed guidance in the research process and in scholarly publications. Gradually, he adjusted that strategy to support my independence as a scholar. This included the pursuit of external research funding. For the most part, my professional success can be credited to the excellent training I received at Texas A&M, and Dr. McCarl was a central factor.”
Dr. McCarl also has pursued non-traditional mentoring roles outside of classroom. He has had several students and their families live in his house for weeks at a time. He has hosted students at a house he owns in Colorado during the offering of a week-long short course on over ten occasions. He regularly has groups of twenty or more in his College Station home to share food from their cultures for informal social gatherings.
During the pandemic he helped his students avoid isolation by launching a group seminar series that encouraged communication and stimulated teamwork. He works hard with international students to ensure that those in need of English skills have opportunities to develop them in multicultural, multi-linguistic environments. He creates an atmosphere that fundamentally respects diverse cultural background and practices.
In summary, a former student states: “while many faculty may be good mentors, Bruce’s continued dedication has resulted in a legacy of mentoring that few can claim.”