Instructors reflect on the importance of mentorship

In part one of a three-part series, we celebrate and honor recipients of the Luis Glaser Mentorship Award, one of three categories from the Provost’s Teaching Awards.
Instructors reflect on the importance of mentorship

More so than ever, the past academic year has proven that exceptional teaching extends far beyond the classroom. University of Miami faculty members worked tirelessly during the pandemic to pivot their approach to learning and teaching while expanding their support to students. To signal the importance of their dedication to providing exemplary education and the commitment to growth, the inaugural Provost’s Teaching Awards recognizes individuals who continue to remain at the forefront of the evolution of education. 

In a three-part series, we're sharing career perspectives from 13 faculty members being recognized in the following categories: Luis Glaser Mentorship Award, Innovation in Teaching Award, and the Excellence in Experiential Teaching Award.

The Luis Glaser Mentorship AwardProvost’s Teaching Awards

In part one of the Provost’s Teaching Awards series, we asked recipients to share their perspectives on mentorship as an essential piece of success. 

The Luis Glaser Mentorship Award recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to mentoring students—including giving advice, feedback, guidance, coaching, and providing professional opportunities for mentees or assisting in the development of life skills. Named after the late Luis Glaser, former provost and a longtime source of inspiration and leadership at the University, the award also encourages the mentorship of underrepresented and first-generation college students. 

“It is an honor and privilege to recognize our faculty members who have prioritized mentorship along with excellence in teaching. Their emphasis and dedication to serving our students in various stages of their academic and personal pursuits is humbling and deserving of acknowledgment,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost.

Amiethab Aiyer, associate professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Miller School of Medicine 

Recently named a top 10 faculty educator across the medical school and UM Faculty Council Educator of the Year in 2019, Aiyer shared that accessibility/availability, informality, interactivity, and longevity of accessibility/availability, are the four basic tenets to his approach to mentorship, advising, and academic engagement with medical students. “Being accessible and proactively available to every single student, no matter who they are, is critical to my very being,” he shared. 

As a mentor, Aiyer promotes and encourages an open-door policy among all students and residents. He positions informality as a way to enhance two-way communication, build trusting relationships, and to help facilitate conversations—whether personal or academic—that ultimately improve performance outcomes.

“I purposefully do not encourage students or residents to call me ‘Dr. Aiyer’ to help assuage the hierarchical sentiments that may limit growth of the relationship,” he said. “The development of these relationships creates the ability for students and residents to constructively learn. Whether it is related to clinical performance or technical skills in the operating room.”

Aiyer also shared that in addition to patients, he too benefits from building these advising and mentoring relationships. “I actively look to provide feedback to students and residents that will help them make strides as they move through various stages of medical training. In this fashion, I also learn how to improve the learning experiences for them and how to improve my own clinical skills,” he said. 

Joy Beverly, lecturer, Department of Math, College of Arts and Sciences 

As a senior residential faculty member living in the Hecht Residential College, Beverly engages with students on a daily basis. While many of her conversations are not related to math, she has found that each interaction is equally as important. “Mentoring is not about imparting advice but is about generosity. In order to be mentors, we must be generous with our time, our experience, and our influence,” said Beverly. 

When it comes to math majors, Beverly has dedicated her time to building peer mentorship programs among students, coaching them to create systems of support  at all skill levels. “Collaboration sessions foster connections that lead to study groups, academic chats, and a sense of community,” she said.  “Mentoring is about quickly launching mentees into mentoring relationships. The chain does not end with one relationship,” she said. 

In addition to building formal programs that fuel mentorship opportunities for students, Beverly also echoed the importance of informality. “Mentoring is not difficult, it just takes a generous and willing spirit. Sometimes it involves just a nudge with a small statement. Have you considered an internship? Are you thinking about working in your field this summer, instead of returning to your high school summer job?” she said.

“The chain does not end with one relationship,” she added.

Hilit F. Mechaber, associate professor of medicine, Miller School of Medicine 

The importance of mentorship was instilled in Mechaber as a student at the University of Miami, and it is something she considers to be a pillar in creating a balance in work and life. “My passion for teaching and my natural inclination to mentor others have been the driving forces throughout my entire career. I have modeled my enthusiasm and love for medicine and the joy of learning in all of my educational roles but most notably as a mentor,” she shared. 

In addition to practicing academic general internal medicine, Mechaber was appointed as dean for student services in 2008. She directs the Office of Professional Development and Career Guidance. In her role she works diligently to create and oversee programs and resources available for medical student support. Mechaber works with a team to assist students in their development as future physicians, helping them to select medical specialties, and by providing  support during multiple transitions in school and beyond. She attributes much of her experience as a mentor to a former University leader.  

“Provost Glaser was a mentor to me early in my career as a student,” said Mechaber. “As one of my biology professors, I met with him during office hours, and I learned early on how influential an educator could be if they took the time to really get to know a student and guide them to follow their own passions. He made time to focus on me and my interests outside of school. His approach as a mentor resonated with me, and I learned to similarly make every student feel important and listened to.”

Imelda K. Moise, assistant professor, Department of Geography, College of Arts and Sciences

Moise explained that her approach to mentoring is grounded in student autonomy, trust, respect, persistence, and determination. Through this support, she encourages students to be independent in their search for knowledge, success, and happiness. 

“The core theme of my mentoring philosophy is to support my students along their independent journeys in attaining their goals and reaching their highest potential by creating a learning environment that provides both autonomy and structure,” said Moise. “I encourage students to seek answers to questions on their own, while I provide guidance based on their individual needs.”

As a researcher who focuses on families and communities at risk, often using mixed-method study designs including geospatial analysis to examine the sociocultural and contextual factors associated with health inequities, Moise continuously aims to integrate research, teaching/mentoring, and community outreach. 

“As a teacher, scholar, and mentor, I always consider the potential benefit of my research beyond the creation of knowledge and influencing practice, to enhance my teaching and student learning, and broader community outreach,” she said. 

Carol-Anne Phekoo, associate professor of professional practice, Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, School of Education and Human Development

Throughout her 21-year career at the University, Phekoo has conceptualized and developed both the master’s and doctoral degree programs that encapsulate the importance of mentorship. She shared that mentoring is a practice that often begins with students before they arrive on campus and continues long after graduation, as they face career decisions and seek advice. 

“Mentoring is not only central to who I am but also important in our programs that educate students for leadership roles in colleges and universities. In effect, to be an effective mentor, I try to be a role model for what a leader should be—one who knows how to listen, reflect, understand, and create change,” said Phekoo. 

In addition to working closely with students, she finds that mentorship also plays an important role among colleagues. 

“As a faculty member, providing support and mentorship is also important with colleagues. Just as I encourage our doctoral cohort members to ‘be there for each other,’ I view my role and responsibility to the department, school, and University similarly. I enjoy working with faculty and staff, and I believe it's reciprocated,” Phekoo said. 

Jonathan West, professor of political science and the director of the Master of Public Administration and the Master of Public Policy programs, College of Arts and Sciences

For more than 40 years, West has focused on ensuring students have the resources to succeed and to develop professionally, especially through internships, scholarships, research projects, international student competitions, and job placement. Throughout his career, he has supported students throughout various stages of their academic and professional lives—many of whom have continued to pursue their education or have started careers at the University of Miami. 

“One of the joys of our faculty role that brings such satisfaction is learning of the successes of our mentees who keep in touch, expressing their appreciation through emails, letters, phone calls, and in person through occasional visits,” shared West. 

He also reflected on the ways he has begun to embrace change as many mentees develop successful careers of their own. 

“Increasingly, at this stage of my career, when working with faculty and students, the boundary between mentor and mentee is blurring and often flipped. As a mentor, I am learning as much or more from the mentee as they may learn from me, especially when our skill sets are often so different,” said West.  

Congratulations to awardees of the Luis Glaser Mentorship Award. Learn more about the Provost’s Teaching Awards including the Innovation in Teaching Award and the Excellence in Experiential Teaching Award. 

The Provost’s Teaching Awards is featured in News@TheU as a three-part series.