Two New Mexico professors have been selected for this year's NM EPSCoR Mentor Award—Dr. Manel Martínez-Ramón and Dr. Jun Zheng. Both were nominated by mentees and demonstrated characteristics of exceptional mentors, including strong professional and interpersonal relationships; working to advance their mentees’ academic, research, and professional goals; and creating inclusive environments for diverse students.
Dr. Martínez-Ramón is the King Felipe VI Endowed Chair and professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at The University of New Mexico, and a member of the NM SMART Grid Center Decision Support Research Group. Five different mentees nominated Dr. Martínez-Ramón. One mentee cited Dr. Martínez-Ramón's authentic commitment to their success, "Manel has been a great mentor. As an advisor he naturally spreads his passion for research to his students. He is extremely encouraging and patient. He not only gives brilliant technical advice and guidance but also is honestly interested in the research interest and professional developments of his students."
Another referenced his ability to give supportive constructive feedback, "Professor Manel is someone who goes beyond the limits of a teacher-student relationship to help his students succeed in work and school. He is very patient and listens to the concerns and questions of his students regarding their classes and research. Criticism is a necessary part of the learning process, but as a skilled mentor professor Manel can deliver criticism in a way that lets his students know that the feedback is constructive, not personal."
This approach to feedback is a very intentional aspect of Dr. Martínez-Ramón's mentorship strategy. In his mentorship statement he explains, "I apply positive reinforcement in my relationship with my students. As humans, students are vulnerable, they have limited energy and their enthusiasm and motivation comes and goes, and sometimes they just need to rest, to restart, or to be heard, not to be judged...Just being nominated by my students is a reason of pride. If I get the award, this will be a great honor for me."
Dr. Zheng is a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at New Mexico Tech, and a member of the NM SMART Grid Center Networking Research Group. Multiple mentees contacted NM EPSCoR to nominate Dr. Zheng. Every single nomination recounted a specific time or occasion when Dr. Zheng's mentorship was essential for their academic success. For one mentee it was when they first arrived at school, "When I first came to the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, I did not have any relevant background and did not understand academic research. Based on my situation at that time, Dr. Zheng carefully helped me to plan my studies and choose the right courses so that I could step into the field of computer science."
For another, Dr. Zheng's encouragement led them to attend an NSF EPSCoR Artificial Intelligence workshop which the mentee described as exceptionally useful. "He emphasized to me that a research meeting is a good place to get to know how others are doing research and I would get a chance to learn how to deliver an idea to a non-expert audience. This inspired me, so I actively participated in the meeting to learn as much as I could. This valuable experience is helping me a lot in my later research."
Yet another mentee shared how meaningful it was to have Dr. Zheng at their side in the final stages of their M.S. degree. "I remember in the summer of 2020, I was preparing my master’s thesis and defense. I shared my thesis draft with him to review and saw he was proofreading and commenting on it until 10:00 pm at night. Before my thesis defense, he also asked me to present to him first and he gave me feedback that helped me pass the defense."
Dr. Zheng's mentorship style is guided by a set of five principles he has refined over the course of the last 15 years: (1) Be supportive; (2) Set clear mentor expectations; (3) Mutual respect and trust; (4) Be inclusive; (5) Create opportunities for your students. Evidence of each mentorship principle is embodied in the earnest narratives of his mentees and demonstrates his sincere devotion to excellence in mentorship.
"He doesn’t just lead me to a clear target when I am lost, but he also inspires me to set my own target and consider long-term goals." – Mentee of Dr. Zheng