Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (Agriculture, Society and Environment)
Recipient, Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs

Background of the Award
Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Background of the Award

Each spring graduate students are invited to nominate faculty members for the Faculty Award for Outstanding Mentorship of GSIs. Typically each nomination is supported by several GSIs who have worked with the honoree. The award, sponsored by the Graduate Council’s Advisory Committee for GSI Affairs and the GSI Teaching & Resource Center, is presented as a surprise in the faculty member’s classroom, with the GSIs and other departmental faculty and staff present.

Kathryn De Master of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management is one of the three faculty members who received the award in April 2016. Laura Stoker, professor of political science and chair of the Graduate Council’s Faculty Committee for GSI Affairs, presented the award plaque.

The excerpts below reflect mentoring activities that the GSI found especially effective.

Excerpts from the GSIs’ Nomination Letters

Kathryn’s GSIs emphasized the collaborative and inclusive nature of her teaching and mentoring:

Kathy both models and mentors us in collaborative pedagogy techniques, fostering safe, productive learning spaces where open dialogue and student-led inquiry are effectively generated. Rather than creating a rigid course structure ahead of time and asking students to adapt themselves to it, Kathy recognizes that students will gain more from their classroom experience if they have a hand in shaping it. With Kathy’s guidance, we have been able to develop section syllabi and portions of main lecture programming that cater to students’ collectively agreed upon learning goals and which recognize and motivate students’ unique interests.

From preparing the course to getting feedback after its completion, Kathryn treats her GSIs as respected colleagues:

Before teaching even began, Kathy solicited our input on the syllabus during the summer, encouraging us to lead undergraduate projects based upon our own research interests and academic specialties. Over the semester, we met weekly as an instructor team for at least one hour, and often longer, reviewing common challenges and questions as well as individual concerns. Once the semester had ended, Kathy also seriously sought our feedback and suggestions for improvement. She values our opinions, even when they differ from her own, and works to meaningfully incorporate these alternate perspectives into her syllabi, modeling for us to do the same in our respective discussion sections.

GSIs appreciated Kathryn’s evident respect for their time:

Throughout the semester, Kathy checked in frequently to make sure our workloads were manageable and took on extra grading responsibilities so as not to unfairly overburden us. She remained respectful of our union contract (specifying no more than 20 hours of GSI work per week), explicitly outlining early in the semester how much time she expected us to spend on each component of our responsibilities (teaching, grading, leading project groups and field trips, etc.).

GSIs also highlighted the value of week-by-week meetings with Kathy in which she gave input on lesson plans and activities:

When seeking advice on how to teach a certain lesson, we could always count on Kathy to respond quickly and comprehensively, describing how she might approach the topic, highlighting common misunderstandings to disabuse, and offering concrete suggestions for how to clarify complex concepts. As more tricky or sensitive issues arose for us GSIs, namely possible instances of student plagiarism, Kathy immediately stepped in to assist, with her usual grace, diplomacy, and firmness.

Her GSIs summarize Kathryn’s mentoring in this way:

We have been consistently amazed by her unwavering thoughtfulness, hard work, and brilliance. She cares deeply about our development both as instructors and as human beings, viewing us not simply as workers, but also colleagues.