This year, contending with uncertainties over research, navigating the restrictions on access to labs and libraries, and coping with all the emotions stirred up by the pandemic, the importance of supportive guidance for graduate students was crucial. Both award recipients were recognized for demonstrating a deep commitment to the mental well-being of their students and for creating a productive environment in support of the academic excellence of their mentees.
Letters for both recipients spoke of profound and multi-faceted mentoring that extended intellectual independence and promoted personal well-being. They wrote of the significant impact their mentors had made on professional decisions, leading some nominators to highly successful career paths they may otherwise not have considered.
We are delighted to recognize Yuliya Komska, Assistant Professor of German studies and Director of the Comparative Literature program, and Professor Ryan Hickox, from the department of Physics and Astronomy as the 2021 Faculty Mentoring Award recipients.
Yuliya Komska mentors students in the Comparative Literature program, which means her students' research interests are varied and may not coincide with her own academic strengths. Nonetheless, Professor Komska's willingness to engage in the work of her students was, according to them, "a humble, nimble display of her enthusiasm to learn new things and encourage our individual interests." Others noted that she "has been a vital and constant presence in all of our academic experiences."
Komska draws on her own memory of being a graduate student far away from home. "Putting the human first is really important," she says, and this highly collegial approach is what has guided her mentoring philosophy. "Showing our human side, our doubts, providing transparency" matters as much as intellectual guidance, adds Komska. "The more honest we are, the more we can remove barriers to success."
This honesty has engendered confidence in her nominators, and encouraged some to dive back into academia, others to fulfill successful transition from graduate school to professional careers. "She has artfully guided us," one letter stated, "and readily offered her connections," they add. This professional generosity is a key aspect of Komska's mentoring approach, which was also keenly felt on a personal level where she "demonstrated a willingness to perform the … emotional labor and sensitivity towards difficult events."
According to Komska, helping her students when they come up against challenges is a skill she developed while directing study abroad programs at Dartmouth in the German department. "Dealing with emotional issues, unpredictability, and culture shock were part of the study abroad experience," she says, "and those same coping skills are very applicable to the academic setting."
She makes a great effort to get to know her students personally so she might guide them, help manage their expectations, and understand that success has to be "scaled to a personal best, not a utopian best." Students in the Comparative Literature program find themselves in a very high-pressured environment, with nine short months to complete their study, research, and thesis. It is, according to Komska, very much a balancing act, and one that could not be achieved without the support of program administrator, Liz Cassell, who Komska notes "is the bedrock of the program. It is Liz who helps facilitate and organize meetings that lead to cultivating community among the group."
In a pandemic, when social isolation brought an additional layer of crisis, her nominators noted how adroitly Komska supported them from start – "we'll never forget Yuliya's welcome gift of … study fuel" – to finish – "with the assurance that Dartmouth and its community is accessible to us well beyond the date of our graduation."
We are delighted to recognize Professor Komska this year with the Faculty Mentoring award – congratulations and thank you.