Scholars presented 2021 Maria Lastra Excellence in Mentoring award

Graduate student Aaron Alpar (Hubbell Group) and postdoctoral scholars Elizabeth “Liza” Lee (de Pablo Group and Galli Group) and Kevin Singh (Bernien Lab) have earned the 2021 Maria Lastra Excellence in Mentoring Award from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago for their service as exemplary and effective mentors during the academic year.

The award recognizes the mentor’s contributions made toward mentee’s personal, professional, and academic growth.

“It has been gratifying to watch my mentees grow scientifically and personally, shedding their inhibitions and achieving their goals,” said Lee. “Based on my experience both as a mentee and a mentor, good mentorship is about more than just passing along knowledge and advice. It’s also about giving inspiration and confidence. This award validates those ideas, and I will continue helping students recognize their potential and become the person they want to be.”

This year 51 nominations were submitted for 27 individuals, representing 19 laboratories. A review committee composed of faculty, staff, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars chose the award recipients through a double-blind process.

“I've had so many wonderful mentors throughout my life,” said Singh. “They’ve made me excited to come to the lab every day to learn new skills, discuss research, and engage in the collective advancement of science. I am so grateful that our community gathers together to recognize the importance of mentorship for creating the inclusive and supportive environments that enable scientific progress and personal development.”

The Maria Lastra Excellence in Mentoring Award was endowed by Juan de Pablo, executive vice president for national laboratories, science strategy, innovation, and global initiatives; Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering, and senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, in honor of his mother. They’re awarded annually.

“Mentorship is a really crucial process that helps both the mentors and mentees,” said Alpar. “The pandemic upended a lot of plans people had, and working through that took a lot of improvisation at first. But having these relationships helped all of us navigate those challenges, and I’m glad to hear that the experience has been a positive one for so many people.”

Pritzker Molecular Engineering holds that effective mentoring is an essential component of research and can catalyze individuals' potential for discovery, curiosity, and professional growth. In addition to the Maria Lastra award, PME offers a number of mentoring resources, including its graduate student mentor training series, a PME/Biological Sciences Division postdoctoral mentor training series, and a graduate student peer mentoring program.

Honorable mentions were also given to graduate students Peiyuan Ma (Amanchukwu Group) and Rachel Weathered (Swartz Lab), and postdoctoral scholars Neil Dolinski (Rowan Group), Angelika Neitzel (Tirrell Lab), and Abhinendra Singh (de Pablo Group).