Eleanor Main Awards celebrate outstanding mentors

By Melissa Gilstrap | Emory Report | May 9, 2016

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Laney Graduate School Dean Lisa Tedesco (center) presented this year's Eleanor Main Graduate Mentor Awards to 2016 PhD graduate Nicole Varga (left) and religion professor Dianne Stewart. Emory Photo/Video

Professor Dianne Stewart and 2016 PhD graduate Nicole Varga are the recipients of this year’s Eleanor Main Graduate Mentor Awards. The awards, established in 2015 by the Laney Graduate School to recognize graduate faculty and graduate students for mentoring excellence, are presented annually during the graduate school's commencement celebrations.

"Once again, we had a tremendous pool of nominations for these awards,” says Lisa Tedesco, dean of Laney Graduate School. “Mentorship is a cornerstone of graduate education. Rewarding those that do it well not only brings visibility to the importance of mentoring, but it is also an opportunity for us at the Laney Graduate School to pause and recognize those faculty and students that are setting the standard for high-quality mentorship.

Stewart, associate professor of religion and African American studies, is also director of the Emory College Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, with the express purpose of mentoring students into graduate school. For Stewart, mentoring students is a professional responsibility that is also deeply fulfilling.

“Over my years on the graduate faculty, I have tried to provide a high level of mentorship support for a wide range of graduate students with the aim of advancing the careers of, and creating options for, the most talented and unburdened students as well as those beset by obstacles," Stewart says. "For me, mentoring is a vocational commitment and endeavor — one that I find very fulfilling, despite the sacrifice and vulnerabilities involved.”

Nicole Varga, a 2016 PhD graduate in psychology, credits mentoring for her academic success and career path.

“As a first-generation college student, I always relied heavily on guidance and encouragement from mentors at all stages of my educational trajectory. With the support of my mentors at Ursinus College, and through the incredible mentorship I’ve received from my graduate adviser Patricia Bauer here at Laney, I became the first person in my family to attain a bachelor of science, a master’s, and a doctorate," Varga says.

Mentoring "indispensable" to graduate education

Beyond the recognition of their own mentoring practices, both Stewart and Varga appreciate the importance of positioning mentorship as a priority in the Laney Graduate School through programming as well as incentivizing mentoring success through the Eleanor Main Graduate Mentor Awards. 

“Graduate programs are as good as the students they produce, and mentoring is crucial to building and maintaining the most reputable and desirable graduate programs,” says Stewart. “In the rigorous climate of publish or perish, mentoring is often overlooked or undervalued as a measurable factor in advancing the university's prestige and stature.

"The best way to signal that mentoring is indispensable, indeed a requirement, is to reward outstanding mentors and provide a range of incentives and training opportunities to produce a climate of excellent mentorship across the structures of the Laney Graduate School," she says.

Varga agrees. “Graduate training is a time in which students are expected to become experts in their respective fields. Although much of the content we are expected to know is acquired through coursework, the professional skills needed to become successful are often passed down through interactions with our mentors," she explains.

"I think it is important that the Laney Graduate School honor those who go the extra mile in order to prepare undergraduate and graduate students for the world outside the classroom and to provide students with the tools necessary to make the most out of their education," she says.

Stewart and Varga were formally recognized as the 2016 recipients of the Eleanor Main Graduate Mentor Awards on May 9 during the Laney Graduate School commencement ceremony for doctoral students.

Honoring Eleanor Main's legacy

The mentor awards are named in honor of the late Eleanor C. Main, who joined the Emory faculty in 1969. During her time at Emory, Main served as chair of the Department of Political Science, director of the Division of Educational Studies, acting dean of Emory College, interim dean of the Laney Graduate School, associate dean of both the College and Laney Graduate School, and associate vice provost for graduate studies. She was also a recipient of the prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award, which honors Emory faculty or staff who have significantly enriched the intellectual and civic life of the Emory community.  

“It is fitting that these awards are named in honor of Dr. Eleanor Main,” says Tedesco. “Her legacy at the Laney Graduate School and, indeed, Emory University is one of strong advocacy and mentorship for colleagues and students. She was an outstanding leader who inspired colleagues and students with her wisdom, passion, generosity and remarkable dedication to advancing the mission of this great University.”