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Three USD Professors Honored as Top Undergraduate Research Mentors

In describing the impact that three University of San Diego professors who were being honored as mentors to their research students, Elisa Maldonado Greene, director of USD's Office of Undergraduate Research, said these words — "Encouraging," "Sense of Belonging" and "Going Above and Beyond," — said a lot.

This year's Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award recipients, announced in a virtual conference call Thursday during Research Week at USD, were nominated and the application was written by students to support their respective professors.

The 2019-20 honorees, all from the College of Arts and Sciences, were Sarah Gray, PhD, professor and chair, Environmental and Ocean Sciences; Nathalie Reyns, PhD, professor, Environmental and Ocean Sciences; and Anthony Bell, PhD, assistant professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Gray, who received the Glenn D. White Jr. Faculty Research Award, was celebrated by Rachel Sarner '20, who has been doing research on the presence of microplastics offshore of Southern California.

"When she gave me an opportunity to do a research cruise (RV Sally Ride and then RV Sproul in 2018), I didn't know at first what I was getting myself into, but now I'm going to be staying at USD and working with her as a graduate student," Sarner said. "Dr. Gray was a huge supporter for me. When I would have challenges, she remained positive and say things like ‘I know that we can get through this together.’ Dr. Gray has really made my college experience something I'll never forget."

Gray felt honored to be nominated and to receive the award. A veteran professor of nearly 30 years at USD, her research students, as a team, are called the Gray Whales. “One of the most rewarding experiences for me is to work with such talented undergraduate and graduate students," Gray said.

Reyns was feted by Elizabeth Bushnell '20, whose research is titled, "Impacts of Climate Change on Intertidal Communities: Effects of Elevated Temperature and Predator Exposure on Chthamalus fissus."

Bushnell, who has worked with Reyns for a few years, too, praised Reyns' mentorship in the classroom lab and her support when applying for and winning two coveted academic scholarships. Bushnell, who is in a wheelchair, also appreciated Reyns' genuine care when the COVID-19 pandemic last month forced USD students to move off campus in quick fashion.

"She went out of her way to run errands for me," Bushnell said. "I'm very grateful for everything she’s done for me. Environmental and Ocean Sciences has added a lot to my life, and I know I wouldn't have pursued (Alice B. Hayes Scholarship and Barry Goldwater Scholarship) without her. I'm very grateful."

Reyns, who echoed Gray's statement about the rewards of mentoring students, appreciates students like Bushnell for their curiosity in science and motivation to do good work. "Students I work with often think they do all the learning, but I definitely learn something new, too, and it helps me become a better mentor to them."

Bell was another faculty honoree. His student presenter, Thanh Trinh '23, is a freshman who worked in Bell's lab as a PURE (Pre-Undergraduate Research Experience) Scholar in Summer 2019.

"Working with Dr. Bell was very comfortable and I really felt a sense of belonging," Trinh said. "Dr. Bell is passionate about what he does and I was fortunate to witness his incredible work ethic. I thank him for all that he's done. He's made me a better student and I look forward to more years of doing research with him."

Bell appreciated Trinh's comments and spoke too of his student's own work ethic. "I'm glad that I can impact someone the way I was, just like a mentor did for me when I was an undergraduate student. Thanh often was working in the lab in the morning and was so energetic. He's always been willing to do the work. As for the sense of belonging, I want all of my students to feel like they are family in the lab."

— Ryan T. Blystone

From left to right, Nathalie Reyns, Sarah Gray and Anthony Bell were recognized as Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentors during a Research Week event by the Office of Undergraduate Research.From left to right, Nathalie Reyns, Sarah Gray and Anthony Bell were recognized as Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentors during a Research Week event by the Office of Undergraduate Research.

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