LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas Center for Undergraduate Research has announced the winners of two annual awards given to recognize undergraduate research mentors who make a difference in the lives of their students at KU.
James Blakemore, associate professor of chemistry, and Jiakun Jack Zhang, assistant professor of political science, are the recipients of the 2021 K. Barbara Schowen Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. This faculty award is named after the professor emeritus of chemistry, whose efforts to promote undergraduate research at KU led to the development of the Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Blakemore has mentored over a dozen undergraduate researchers since he arrived at KU in 2016. In his nomination packet, Blakemore’s students noted his hands-on approach to mentoring students that pushed them to develop their own voice as writers and their own ideas as researchers. The independence that his students develop as a result of his mentorship is exhibited in their multiple peer-reviewed publications, prestigious awards and career accomplishments.
Jack Zhang has quickly established a dynamic research program since coming to KU in 2019 that involves undergraduates. He has recruited students from diverse disciplines to work in his research group and pushed students to develop independent projects and apply for research awards. His students noted the rich intellectual environment created in his interdisciplinary research group as well as the caring atmosphere Zhang creates with his personal interest in students and offers of a cup of tea. Zhang has also incorporated research activities into his undergraduate classes to develop the research skills of a larger number of students. Both Blakemore and Zhang will receive $1,000.
Phil Duncan, assistant teaching professor of linguistics, is the 2021 recipient of the Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. This award originated in 2014 at the request of undergraduate students who wanted to recognize the important role that graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and academic staff play in mentoring undergraduate researchers at KU. Duncan’s nomination packet highlighted the individualized research projects that he helped students to develop. His students emphasized the supportive role he played in helping them to take ownership over their projects and share their research with broader audiences. Duncan will also receive $1,000.
Kara Christensen, postdoctoral researcher in psychology, received honorable mention for this award.
“These researchers have all been fantastic, involved mentors for numerous undergraduate researchers,” said Alison Olcott, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and associate professor of geology. “By bringing students into their research and helping students develop into independent scholars, these mentors are supporting the success of their students in college and beyond. The fact that these mentors have continued such intensive work with students over the past year is a testament to their hard work, as well as the benefits of attending a research-intensive university.”
Both mentor awards are coordinated through KU’s Center for Undergraduate Research. Mentors were nominated through a two-part process: students, faculty or staff submitted recommendations for a mentor to be considered for the award, then home departments and supervisors submitted full application packets. The full list of 2021 mentor award nominees can be found on the center’s website.