Virginia Tech® home

Faculty Mentor of the Month

With the Faculty Mentor of the Month program, we recognize and highlight the important role faculty members play in supporting, encouraging, and promoting an affirmative, inclusive scholarly and teaching environment, while contributing to the professional and personal development of graduate students, and cultivating excellence in scholarship.

Nomination timeline:
  • Nominations are accepted year-round
  • One winner is selected each month; nominees not selected remain in the pool for future concideration
Nomination process:
  • Graduate students may nominate their faculty advisors, committee members, or other faculty members who have played a significant role in their graduate experience, either in a single noteworthy instance or through continued and consistent support by completing this short nomination form online
  • The Graduate School selects one faculty mentor a month to receive a certificate and a small token of our appreciation.
  • The winner, nominator(s), and the winner's graduate program director are notified by email before the decision is posted on this website.

Faculty mentors of the month will be featured on our website and recognized on social media platforms, as well. 

2024

Dr. Meredith Steele smiling
Associate Professor Meredith Steele. Virginia Tech photo

Dr. Meredith K. Steele is the Graduate School’s January 2024 Mentor of the Month. An associate professor in the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, her research in soil and environmental sciences focuses on the effect cities have on water quality, ecosystem services, and biogeochemical cycles.

Steele earned two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. from Texas A & M University. 

Her nominator, Umme Fatema Piu, called Steele “an exceptional mentor who goes above and beyond to support graduate students in their academic and personal journeys.” Piu described Steel as open and approachable, and noted the professor “creates an environment where students feel comfortable discussing any issue, whether it's related to their research, coursework, or personal challenges.” Piu said Steele sets clear expectations for students and works to help them excel. She said Steele “is genuinely invested in helping her students become their best selves. Her kind and compassionate nature, combined with her dedication to the growth and success of her students, makes her a truly outstanding mentor.”

Dr. Green against a backdrop of trees
Dr. Patrick Corey Green; Virginia Tech photo

Assistant Professor Patrick Corey Green, Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation program in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is the February 2024 Mentor of the Month. Green focuses on forest biometrics, forest inventory, and remote sensing applications in forest management. 

He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia and his Ph.D. from Virginia Tech.

Nominator Kamana Parajuli excels making students feel part of his team and at home in his lab.  “The most important thing is that he is so good at communication,” Parajuli said, adding that Green responds quickly to email questions. Parajuli served as a teaching assistant in Green’s class and “thoroughly enjoyed and learned many things from the experience.” Parajuli noted that Green holds weekly meetings with students and with the whole research group and gives his students the sense that he is learning right along with them. Green also has a knack for making students feel comfortable on his research team. 

2023

Associate Professor Onur Seref in a portrait image looking at the camera, wearing a suit
Associate Professor Onur Seref

Dr. Onur Seref, associate professor of business information technology, is the January 2023 Mentor of the Month. His primary research interests involve combinatorial and nonlinear optimization methods in data mining and machine learning with applications in biomedicine, network optimization theory, and metaheuristics. 

Ph.D. student Derya Ipek Eroglu nominated Dr. Seref and said, "He is always

genuinely intending to help improve [not just my work], but all of his students. His comments are always helpful, constructive, and actionable." Eroglu said he has a knack for seeing the "big picture" quickly and assisting students with their research, including exploring methods outside his areas of expertise. Additionally, he encourages students to live balanced lives, taking care of themselves and pursuing interests and passions outside their studies and research. She noted Seref is an accomplished musician, and he played with her during the 2022 International Street Fair. "I am thankful for having him in my Ph.D. experience," she said. "I feel like I gained a lifelong mentor, a collaborator, and a friend."

Image of Chelsea Haines

Chelsea E. Haines, Ph.D., is our February Mentor of the Month. She is the Associate Director of Broader Impacts at the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) within the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Chelsea also serves as Affiliate Faculty for the Department of Engineering Education and Adjunct Faculty for the School of Education. 

Nominator Faika Tahir Jan called Haines "an extremely empathetic mentor." Tehy said she is adept at working with students who have disabilities, and with minority and marginalized students. Haines is constantly searching for conferences and article opportunities for her students, and is always available to provide valuable feedback on student research projects. 

Ashley Costello said Haines was instrumental in helping her develop her "research identity as a Ph.D. student. ... She recognizes how important it is to build your students up and encourage them to seize opportunities. She not only supports us, but encourages our growth."

image of Cassidy Rist smiling
Dr. Cassidy Rist

Dr. Cassidy Rist, Assistant professor of biomedical and veterinary sciences and associate director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, is the March 2023 mentor of the month, nominated by Alphonce Assenga.

"She has been very instrumental in guiding me in proper way of doing my research and she has been sharing scientific information/groups and opportunities that actually makes me grow better as a scientist" Assenga wrote. "She has insisted that I work hard so I can have as many publications as possible. She is not only my advisor/mentor but she is a friend who really understands what I need even when I do not know."

When she learned of the award, Rist responded, "What an honor to be recognized for my most important work."

Dr. Cindy Smith smiling; photo taken outside in front of some trees
Dr. Cindy Smith. Virginia Tech photo.

Dr. Cynthia “Cindy” Smith is the Graduate School’s April 2023 mentor of the month. She is professor and associate department head for Human Development and Family Science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and is director of the Children’s Emotion Lab. Her research focuses on the social and emotional development of young children, parent and child interactions, and the impact of parent personality, marital relations, and family stress on parenting behaviors.

She was nominated by Ph.D. student Nari Kang and master’s degree student Caroline Begley. In her nomination letter, Kang said, “Throughout my time in the graduate program, Dr. Smith has been an unwavering source of support and guidance.” Kang noted that Smith has helped her with connect with networks and provided resources to support her work, and always been available to listen and to check in to see how she was doing. “Another thing that I admire about my mentor is her deep knowledge and expertise in the field,” Kang said. “She is able to offer insights and perspectives that have truly helped to shape my thinking and my approach to research.”

Dr. Smith is the reason I feel confident in my ability to be a successful graduate student,” Begley said in her nomination. She has been such a strong guiding force for me throughout my time here at Virginia Tech, and has always made me feel seen and heard.” Begley said she knows that Smith has provided the same support and guidance to other students as well.

Dr. Justin Lemkul smiling
Dr. Justin Lemkul, Virginia Tech photo

Justin Lemkul is the Graduate School's 2023 May Mentor of the Month. He is an assistant professor of biochemistry and runs the Lemkul lab. He earned his bachelor's and doctoral degrees at Virginia Tech. Dr. Lemkul’s lab employs state-of-the-art molecular dynamics (MD) simulation models and methods to answer biochemical and biophysical questions and drive forward computer-aided drug design (CADD). 

By applying a theoretical approach to emerging problems in biology, he and his students can gain insight into fundamental processes and disease states with unprecedented temporal and spatial resolution. 

The four students who nominated Dr. Lemkul for this award noted that he cares about and fosters his student’s success. His nominators wrote that this regard for students included helping them gain confidence in themselves and their scientific abilities and encouraging them to move beyond their comfort zones. One student said, “One of his greatest gifts is turning mistakes into teachable moments that help us grow, not only as researchers, but as people.” Another student noted that “he prioritizes not only our physical health, but also our mental health." He also helps and encourages his students to seek fellowships and additional funding for their work.

Photo of Dr. Eric Kaufman smiling
Dr. Eric Kaufman, Virginia Tech photo

Eric Kaufman is the Graduate School's 2023 June Mentor of the Month. He is a professor and associate department head of agriculture, leadership, and community education in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and his Ph.D. at Ohio State University. His research focuses on advancing the eco-leadership discourse through investigation of collaborative leadership in community and volunteer settings.  

Beyond the general aspects of leadership, his research with community groups has investigated group cohesion and group exchange structures as well as cognitive differences in problem-solving styles.

Nominators Jama Coartney and Lonnie Johnson Jr., noted Kaufman's "extraordinary commitment to the mentorship of students through his thoughtful, engaging, one‐on‐one interactions. He shares his extensive subject matter knowledge and expertise to expertly guide us through our academic career." The students said Kaufman's support, commitment, and encouragement of his students is instrumental in their success. They also said he recognizes family priorities and other work-life balance concerns and works with students to help them advance and succeed regardless of the challenges that present themselves.

"We—and the university—are really lucky to have him.”

Image of Dr. Joseph Eifert smiling
Dr. Joseph Eifert, Virginia Tech photo

Joseph Eifert is the Graduate School's 2023 July Mentor of the Month. He is a professor and graduate program director in Food Science and Technology. He earned his bachelor's degree from Loyola Marymount University and his master's and doctoral degrees from Virginia Tech. His primary research emphasis is the microbiology of food surfaces and food contact surfaces, which includes the study of ways to reduce pathogens on food surfaces and optimizing the quantitative recovery of pathogenic microorganisms from foods, food contact surfaces, and food processing environments. 

Nominator Abdullah Al Wahaimed said of  Eifert's ability to "impart his wealth of wisdom, igniting a passion for research within his students and motivating them to explore uncharted territories in their chosen areas of study." Wahaimed noted that Eifert "genuinely cares about his students' personal growth and well‐being, investing time in building strong and supportive relationships. Approachable and compassionate, he actively listens to their concerns and provides invaluable advice, creating a safe and trusting space for them to navigate challenges and celebrate achievements. Recognizing the importance of networking, he facilitates opportunities for his mentees to connect with esteemed professionals and mentors beyond the academic realm, broadening their horizons and expanding their opportunities." 

Eifert is known for his ability to tailor his mentorship to his students' individual needs. "Above all, Dr. Joseph Eifert's mentorship leaves an indelible mark on the lives of his students," Wahaimed said.

Image of Chris Brown
Assistant Professor Chris Brown. Virginia Tech photo

Chris Brown, assistant professor of Computer Science in the College of Engineering, is the August 23 faculty mentor of the month. Brown’s interests explore empirical, interdisciplinary, and automated methods to improve the behavior, productivity, and decision making of software engineers. In January 2023 he was co-recipient of a Google Research Award. Brown earned his bachelor’s degree from Duke University, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from North Carolina State University.

His nominators, Minhyuk Ko and Shawal Khalid said of Brown that he “has demonstrated exceptional support for his students through his dedication and commitment to their research and overall well‐being.” 

They note that he actively engages in his students’ projects and takes interest in his student’s research and scholarly pursuits as well as their personal lives. “Every week, he would ask us about our weekend plans in the reading group meetings and take an active interest in our social activities.’ Ko and Khalid said, he was the only advisor they encountered who asks his students, "What do you expect from an advisor?"

The two specifically mentioned Brown’s efforts to cultivate a sense of community among his graduate students.”He actively cultivates a sense of community among graduate students. He organizes regular research group meetings, facilitating engaging discussions and knowledge sharing. Dr. Brown's inclusive approach empowers us to collaborate, exchange ideas, and learn from one another.”

Dr. Radke smiling against a background of trees
Dr. Phil Radke, Virginia Tech photo

Dr. Phil Radtke, associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, is the Graduate School’s September 2023 mentor of the month. 

Radke focuses on assessment and modeling of forest resources; evaluating models used in forestry and ecology; acquisition, management and analysis of data; and improving access to growth and yield models.

He earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees at the University of Minnesota and his master’s degree at Virginia Tech.

Nominator Bipana Subedi said he has been a supportive and considerate mentor, helping this international student navigate a new country and new educational system. “It isn’t just a good professor that students want,” wrote Subedi. “Sometimes we want professors who are kind, compassionate, and understanding, and Dr. Radtke is exactly that.”

Dr. Gurari smiling outside a building
Dr. Netta Gurari. Virginia Tech photo

Netta Gurari, assistant professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics (BEAM), College of Engineering, is the Graduate School’s October 2023 mentor of the month.

Gurari directs the Robotics and Sensorimotor Control Lab. Her research areas include biomechanics, cardiovascular engineering, dynamics and control, and neuroengineering.

She earned her bacheor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and her master’s and doctoral degrees from Johns Hopkins University.

Nahid Kalantary Ardebily and Emily Tirrell nominated Gurari for the award, saying she is “a true champion when it comes to supporting graduate students. Her dedication is akin to having a seasoned guide who helps us navigate the intricate paths of academia and life.” Ardebily and Tirrell called Gurari an adept problem solver who provides valuable insights as students in her lab navigate challenges. Tirrell said Gurari focuses on her students’ wellbeing as well as their research and academic progress. 

Image of Dr. Nicholas Loehr
Professor Nicholas Loehr

Nicholas Loehr, professor of mathematics in the College of Science, is the November 2023 faculty mentor of the month.  Dr. Loehr's fous is algebraic cominatorics and the combinatorial properties of symmetric polynomials. He has received numerous awards for his work as a teacher and mentor and is the author of four books and dozens of journal articles. 

He earned his bachelor's degrees at Virginia Tech, and one master's degree at Virginia Tech. He earned a second master's degree and his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. 

Aditya Khanna nominated Dr. Loehr for this award, saying "Dr. Loehr is an incredible teacher. He is extremely supportive, very responsive to emails and is precise about his guidance." Khanna said Dr. Loehr goes out of his way to answer questions and fosters a friendly atmosphere in which "one can have comfortable conversations as well a share mathematical insights." Khanna said he treats students as equals and keeps them motivated in a positive manner.

Assistant Professor Sarah Misyak, wearing glasses, smiling
Assistant Professor Sarah Misyak

Sarah Misyak, research assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, is the December 2023 faculty mentor of the month.  She also is assistant director and program manager for research and evaluation, Virginia Cooperative Extension Family Nutrition Program. Misyak’s research focus areas are food access; food and nutritional security, public health nutrition, program evaluation, and health disparities.

She was nominated by Maria DeNunzio, Paige Harrigan, Rachel Liebe, and Victor Olayemi. The four are members of Misyak’s inaugural lab group. 

They said “she embodies the highest attributes of advisor, researcher, and partner in her [various] roles. She is a rigorous and curious scholar, teacher, team builder, connector, communicator, and proponent of equity.” 

The four said she actively engaged with each of them to design customized research projects and prioritized each student’s style, needs, and goals. Additionally, they said she encourages a balance of activities to promote both professional and personal growth. “She creates a truly safe environment through listening and active support. We all have become fans of her ‘writing parties’ and walking meetings.”

Misyak earned her bachelor's degree and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech and her master's degree in public health from George Washington University.

2022

Dr. Alexandra DeFeliceantonio smiling
Dr. Alexandra DiFeliceantonio

Dr. Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, assistant professor and associate director of the Center for Health Behaviors Research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, is the April mentor-of-the-month, nominated by MC Frazier, a Ph.D. student in the interdisciplinary Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health (TBMH) program. 

Frazier said DiFeliceantonio is noted for being kind, approachable, and accessible to students at the Virginia Tech Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke. “No matter the question or concern, she takes precious time to make you feel heard and affirmed where you are in your training while also providing helpful answers and directions,” wrote Frazier, who noted that her professor listened to an idea for a National Institutes of Health grant and provided helpful feedback and resources.

Frazier also noted DiFeliceantonio’s efforts to create “an inclusive and culturally responsive environment both in the classroom and in one-on-one interactions. She practices and encourages ‘people-first language’ when talking about disorders and diseases, and steers conversation towards maintaining an inclusive environment for her students.” 

Photo of Stefano Brizzolara at the helm of a boat
Dr. Stefano Brizzolara. Photo by Lakshmi Miller

Stefano Brizzolara, associate professor of aerospace and ocean engineering in the College of Engineering and director of the Innovative Ship Design Lab, is the Graduate School’s May mentor of the month. He was nominated by Lakshmi Miller, who noted he also is the graduate program coordinato. Miller noted that he goes “above and beyond” to help students with their research and has a knack for assisting students who need help, getting them back on track. 

Miller also said he focuses on diversity in the workplace and is available to his students virtually as well as in person when they need assistance and to make sure their personal lives also are “on track.”

“He is one of the few mentors that puts mentorship ahead of academics, and needless to say, the academic output from his lab has always been excellent,” Miller wrote. “He gives equal opportunity and makes female students in a male-dominated field such as ocean engineering feel confident in a technical work setting.”

Image of Dr. Su Fang Ng standing outside wearing a blue jacket and glasses
Dr. Su Fang Ng

Dr. Su Fang Ng, professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, is the June mentor of the month. She was nominated by Air Coradi and Kara Rush. Coradi said Ng provided support and advice as Coradi 

wrote her master's thesis and "pushed me to continue writing and develop my ideas."

Rush said, "Dr. Ng thoughtfully mentors students through the sometimes murky and unkind waters of academia, constantly checking in on their wellbeing and offering support. I and others have directly benefited from her guidance, which has helped students both to publish and to be accepted into Ph.D. programs." Rush noted Ng's classroom practice "valorizes unheard voices, both authors and students."

Face shot of Dr. David Popham
Professor David Popham

David L. Popham, professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, is the July mentor of the month. He was nominated by Ph.D. candidate Matthew Flores. 

In his nomination letter, Flores attributed his success during his graduate education 

journey, in part, to Popham’s mentoring, noting that the professor encourages students to take leadership roles and to be active in associations and clubs. “He encourages students to collaborate with each other and others they meet at conferences or in class. On top of the professional development opportunities he pushes us to engage with, he is supportive of every student’s individual needs,” Flores said. He also noted that Popham is open to discussing issues and searching for solutions to problems, “even if it uncomfortable for him.” 

Maryam Kamran stands under a tree and smiles
Maryam Kamran

Maryam Kamran, Director of Inclusion and Diversity for the College of Natural Resources, is the August Mentor of the Month. She not only leads diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in the college, she teaches courses that examine identity and equity through the lens of natural resources. 

Sharon Dorsey nominated Kamran and said she "has gone above and beyond in supporting me as a student of color in a program that is lacking racial diversity. Maryam is always an open ear, a sage of good advice, and a resource for additional support whenever I need it. On top of that, she has connected me with other undergraduate students of color that I can mentor and offer to support to." 

Eric Jacques in a suit, smiling, with sunlit wall behind him.
Eric Jacques

Dr. Eric Jacques, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, is the September Mentor of the month. Dr. Jacques' areas of interest include blast protection, physical security, protective structural design, structural engineering, reinforced concrete, and computer analysis.

Nominators Zachary Coleman and Pratiksha Dhakal said Dr. Jacques had supported their professional

 development and mental health during their journey as doctoral students. 

They said he motivated them to engage in activities support their future careers, "such as manuscript-writing and involvement in technical committees." He is known for calling students ahead of major milestones, such as oral exams or proposal defenses, and encouraging them, keenly aware of the mental stress. "He is consistently engaged not only with our research, but also our professional development."

Tom Sanchez
Dr. Tom Sanchez

Tom Sanchez, professor of urban and regional planning, is the October Mentor of the Month. Based in Arlington, Sanchez conducts research in areas of transportation, social justice, technology, and scholarly impact. Graduate student Trey Gordner nominated Sanchez and wrote, “Early in my master’s degree, I asked him for help determining whether academia was right for me.

For two years he ensured that I had every opportunity to explore the field. He encouraged me to attend faculty meetings as a student representative and to attend our school's Ph.D. colloquia. He invited me to contribute to an NSF proposal he was working on, and when he won the grant, took me on as a 20-hour graduate assistant. More than that, he treated me as a full collaborator, listing me as a coauthor on the resulting presentations and studies and reaching into his own travel funds so I could present our findings at conferences. … He was always kind, thoughtful, helpful, and incredibly generous with his time and resources.”

Niyousha Hosseinichimeh with dark hair and eyes, smiles at the camera in a portrait photo
Assistant Professor Niyousha Hosseinichimeh, Industrial and Systems Engineering

Niyousha Hosseinichimeh’s research focuses on developing and applying methods to improve health and healthcare systems. She uses simulation models to help stakeholders improve their understanding and decision making in complex dynamic systems. 

Her nominator, Ross Williams, noted that she provides daily guidance and support to her students. " If the words mentor, role model, and friend were blended together into a make-a-person machine, Niyousha is the person who would pop-out," Williams wrote. He noted her empathy and flexibility with students. "She is a role model I'd aspire to if I choose a path in academia," he said. 

Dr. Copeheaver in a neon vest holding a book while out in the forest collecting data
Dr. Carolyn Copenheaver helping a student collect data in the field. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Ryan

Associate Professor, Carolyn Copenheaver, Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. Her interest areas are forest ecology, land-use history and forest stand dynamics. 

She was recently recognized for her work addressing sexual misconduct and harassment in her courses, all of which involve field labs. () Copenheaver is known for an enthusiastic and attentive style of mentoring that focuses on her students’ learning styles and helps them deepen their analytic approach to research. Nominator Suzanne Ryan said, “Once I had started my studies, Carolyn took care to understand my work and learning styles and created clear expectations with regular deadlines for my thesis, thoroughly discussed each course selection with me, guided me to adopt the rigorous research and writing skills required by my discipline, and even spent two weeks this summer collecting field data with me.”