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2023 Awards of Distinction in Mentoring Undergraduates Announced

2023 Awards of Distinction in Mentoring Undergraduates Announced

Four West Virginia University faculty members and one graduate student were recently named recipients of 2023 Awards of Distinction in Mentoring Undergraduates in Research.

The award recognizes and rewards faculty and graduate students who encourage and support undergraduates in making an original intellectual or creative contribution to their discipline.

The 2023 recipients are:

  • Ember Morrissey, associate professor of environmental microbiology in the Davis College
  • Luis Arroyo, assistant professor of forensic & investigative science in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
  • Shari Steinman, associate professor of psychology in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
  • Yoav Kaddar, professor of dance in the College of Creative Arts
  • Malia Miller, a PhD student in the Department of Biology

Sponsored by the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Office of the Provost, awards have been presented to faculty in four categories since 2016: behavioral and social sciences, biosciences and health sciences, humanities and the arts, and physical sciences and technology. In 2022 a new category for graduate students was created to recognize the important role graduate students play in mentoring undergraduates in research and creative work.

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Ember Morrissey

An associate professor of environmental microbiology, Morrissey was recognized in the biosciences and health sciences category. She joined WVU in 2016 and has mentored several undergraduate students in her research laboratory.

According to Sven Verlinden, director of the Division of Plant and Soil Sciences in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, Morrissey’s record of successful work with undergraduates in research is impressive and students are active in presenting, publishing and securing prestigious scholarships.

Undergraduate researchers supervised by Morrissey regularly present in regional, national and international scientific conferences, and others have served as co-authors for articles published in high-impact journals. Moreover, Morrissey has mentored winners of nationally recognized scholarships including the Udall and Goldwater Scholarships.

“Dr. Morrissey has always seen my value and potential, and she has supported me in all of my endeavors,” Teagan Kuzniar, an environmental microbiology major who has been working with Morrissey since her freshman year, said. “I have been involved in many research projects, but the greatest way that she has supported me is through the development and implementation of my own independent research project.”

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Luis Arroyo

A Mountaineer since 2016, Arroyo has consistently included undergraduates in his research. He was recognized in the physical sciences and technology category.

“Arroyo focuses on helping students to apply concepts learned in the classroom to real-world problems at the forefront of science and technology,” Casper Venter, chair of the Department of Forensic and Investigative Science in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, said. “Mentoring undergraduate students in research activities aligns with Arroyo’s approach of professionally driven direction that shapes them to be ready for the job market or graduate education.”

Kourtney Dalzell, a graduate student in forensic science who was mentored by Arroyo as an undergraduate student, said he has the “capability to see the promise in his students and pull out their full research potential through his leadership, passion for science and, most importantly, instilling confidence in his students.” 

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Yoav Kaddar

Recognized in the humanities and the arts category, Kaddar’s inclusion of undergraduate students in creative work has shaped his career during his 12 years of work at WVU.

“Kaddar has brought the WVU dance program to the national stage through his mentorship of undergraduate students,” Mikylah Myers, associate dean for artistic and scholarly achievement in the College of Creative Arts, said. “The program has bloomed under his leadership and is a focal point of engaged and inspirational creative activity and artistic expression in the College of Creative Arts and the WVU campus.”

“From Monday morning dance classes to impactful, original choreography, he inspires me every day to be a better dancer, a better choreographer, and a better person,” Elena Maddy, who is double majoring in musical theatre and dance, said. “When I leave WVU this spring, I will not only remember his mentorship but his incredible kindness.”

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Shari Steinman

Awarded in the behavioral and social sciences category, Steinman has mentored more than 50 undergraduate students in research during her seven years at WVU.

“This is an amazing amount of mentorship for a young scientist who was just promoted to associate professor in our department and granted tenure last year,”  Kevin Larkin, chair of the Department of Psychology in the Eberly College, said. “Her laboratory is producing the kind of critical thinkers and scholars who will make the institution proud as they enter their scientific careers in the years beyond graduation.”

Steinman’s mentorship style is based on developing mentees’ curiosity, challenging them by setting high expectations and maintaining a warm and supportive learning environment. Her mentees publish in peer-reviewed journals, present in scientific events and successfully apply to graduate and professional schools.

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Malia Miller

Over the course of her five years as a graduate student, Miller has mentored several undergraduates in research, most of them freshmen with no previous experience in research.

“Malia goes above and beyond the level of care, compassion, clear communication of expectation and overall effort to mentor than one would see from a graduate student,” Kevin Daly, professor of biology and Miller’s mentor, said.

Miller had a record number of nominations for this award with many of her mentees praising her mentorship style as well as the care and support she showed each of them.

When I presented at the WVU Fall 2022 Research Symposium, Malia was there on a Saturday afternoon to see my poster, hear me give my speech. She did not have an obligation to be there, but she came because she supports her undergraduates in the projects they do,” Samantha Bostic, a biology major, said.

According to Cinthia Pacheco, assistant director for the Office of Undergraduate Research, the feedback shared by students and colleagues is an important part of the nomination process.

“We know that participation in undergraduate research increase the retention of students in college, but beyond that, it helps students to be more successful in their majors and more prepared for the challenges of a constantly changing world,” she said.

The Office of Undergraduate Research connects students and faculty to provide opportunities for students to engage in scholarly inquiry and creative work. Students and faculty who are interested in research can visit the website or email