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Three New Mexico professors have been selected for this year's NM EPSCoR Mentor Award— Abdullah Mueen (UNM), Sihua Shao (NMT) and Son Cao Tran (NMSU). All were nominated by students 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. 

Abdullah Mueen is an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of New Mexico and is co-lead of the NM SMART Grid Center Decision Support Group. Mueen was nominated for his generosity and supportive mentorship style, "especially when I became a parent in 2021, he acted like an angel guardian. Working in the daytime while looking after the newborn was challenging for me. Professor Mueen…gave me the flexibility to work according to my schedule. As a result, I could maintain my productivity level and progress toward fulfilling my Ph.D. requirements."

It is clear Mueen enjoys his role as a mentor—in his mentorship statement he proudly includes pictures of all the students he has supported—and he describes his unique "Anytime Interrupt" policy, "My students can interrupt me anytime when I am alone in the office. I have implemented this policy for eight years despite the challenges it brings along. This policy ensures students are never blocked on any issue that I can resolve, and thus, fostering efficiency in producing results, meeting deadlines, and graduating on time...this policy made some of my work days longer than usual, however, the benefits to students outweigh my temporary inconveniences."

Sihua Shao is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at New Mexico Tech and a member of the NM SMART Grid Center Networking Research Group. Three students nominated Shao. One cited Shao's commitment to improving mentorship at New Mexico Tech, explaining Shao, "has actively promoted a culture of mentorship among his colleagues. He is a member of the New Mexico Tech faculty development committee, and helps organize invited research talks and ’teaching tea time’ workshops, which aim to enhance faculty members’ mentoring abilities, emphasizing the importance of creating a supportive and inclusive environment for all students."

Another student shared their appreciation for Shao's commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, "He has actively sought opportunities to involve underrepresented groups in his research projects and has worked tirelessly to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students."

Arguably the most compelling argument supporting Shao's selection for this award came from his third nominator who simply wrote, "I have worked in two other university labs [and] have had multiple research mentors...I can say confidently that Shao is the best mentor I’ve ever seen."

For his part, Shao explains that his commitment to empowering mentorship is informed and inspired by his personal experiences as a mentee, "Throughout my academic and professional journey, I have benefited immensely from the guidance of exceptional mentors, which has significantly informed my approach to mentorship. Their ethos, underscored by empathy, respect, and dedication, provides the bedrock for my mentoring philosophy."

Son Cao Tran is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at New Mexico State University and a member of the NM SMART Grid Center Decision-Support Research Group. In their nomination letter, one mentee recounted how Tran makes himself available, "As department head, he is quite busy most of the time. However, he still always makes time to have a chat with us after he finishes his meetings...Not only does he spend time with each of us individually to talk about our process every week, but he also has time to attend our weekly lab meetings." 

Another nominator wrote: "He is a kind and supportive professor. He always offers valuable advice and constructive feedback on my work when needed. Although there are some challenges and difficulties when I do research, his encouraging attitude makes the work environment more enjoyable and motivating."

Tran's humor belies a deliberate approach to mentorship which he has refined over the course of his 22-year career, "I strive to create an environment that nurtures students' creativity, independence, confidence, desire, and integrity" he explains. "Graduate or undergraduate students at NMSU often come with minimal (or no) research experience. I therefore often encourage students to start ‘small’ by identifying problems that meet their level of experience. This helps improve their confidence." Strategies like this fold into his larger approach to mentoring which aims to instill tenacity, confidence, and scientific integrity in his mentees while encouraging scientific freedom and teamwork.

Read the original article here.