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ECU professors David Taylor, left, and Melani Duffrin received awards for their work in mentoring graduate students conducting research during Research & Creative Achievement Week on campus. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

New award recognizes excellence in mentoring

April 12, 2013

By Doug Boyd and Caroline M’Coy
ECU News Services

Two professors have been named recipients of a new East Carolina University award recognizing excellence in mentorship of graduate students conducting research.

Dr. David Taylor, chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Brody School of Medicine, and Dr. Melani Duffrin, professor in the Department of Nutrition Science, were honored as a Distinguished Graduate Faculty Mentors during ECU’s annual Research and Creative Achievement Week awards luncheon April 12.

A total of 47 faculty members were nominated for the awards. Mentoring has been identified as one of the most critical factors in student success nationwide, according to Tom McConnell, co-chair of the week’s events.

Taylor has been involved in the direct mentoring of three students at ECU and 11 during his career (three medical/doctoral students and eight doctoral students) as well as 11 postdoctoral fellows. He has served as a member of 16 dissertation advisory committees and two master’s thesis committees at ECU.

While he has directly mentored only some of the students who have pursued graduate degrees in his department, Taylor said he takes responsibility for some level of mentoring for all department students.

"This is a duty that I take very seriously and enjoy very much as the quality of our students is very high, which makes it a pleasure to participate in the nurturing process," Taylor said.

"The graduate program currently has 15 students and has maintained a student population of 10 to 15 since 2005. I consider this award an unexpected honor and one that certainly humbles me and makes me appreciate the students who were involved in nominating me."

Doctoral student Ben Thompson wrote a nomination letter for Taylor on behalf of several students in the department.

"We felt that he was deserving of it because he has always tried to provide every opportunity for us to improve ourselves as scientists," Thompson said. "He never turns us away when we are in need of advice and is always willing to share his knowledge and insight."

Since arriving at ECU in 2005, Duffrin has worked directly with 16 graduate students, acting as research project director for a dozen of those.

“Teaching and mentoring students within my research program is the best part of my responsibilities as a researcher and educator,” Duffrin said. “Watching students’ communication, problem-solving and self-directed learning skills improve is very rewarding.”

Among those nominating Duffrin for the newly created honor was ECU graduate student Ashley Roseno, who has worked closely with Duffrin since 2009. She said Duffrin’s guidance has been helpful to both her academic and professional growth.

“She is the type of mentor who invests in her students and their futures,” Roseno said. “She spends ample time with me ensuring I can handle the tasks at hand as well as plan for the future and what it may hold.  I never have to think twice about asking her for guidance in any situations that may occur.”

Mentoring has taught Duffrin, “to appreciate diversity and nurture individual differences in the learning process,” she said.

“There is a moment when a student will surprise themselves with what they are able to accomplish,” Duffrin added. “That is the best part of mentoring.”

Her research focuses on using food to teach math and science in K-12 schools – a process that also results in better understanding of nutrition, attitudes about food and dietary behaviors.