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Graduate College names 3 outstanding graduate mentors

October 30, 2009

Leona S. Aiken, Terry L. Alford and Sandra L. Stauffer have been named ASU Outstanding Graduate Mentors for 2009. The award is for excellence in a wide variety of mentoring functions, including teaching, chairing doctoral and/or MFA committees, a demonstrated ability to attract doctoral students to ASU through recruitment and scholarly reputation, a strong commitment to the students' professional development, timely completion rates, and high-quality student placement. 

"The quality of the nominations for this award from across the university is a testament to the dedication and commitment of individuals who guide our students through their graduate careers," says Maria T. Allison, the university vice provost and dean of the Graduate College. "These three individuals represent the very highest quality of mentoring and it is particularly gratifying to honor these faculty who represent fields as diverse as music, engineering and psychology."

Dr. Leona Aiken, a professor in ASU's Department of Psychology, has a national reputation as a leader in quantitative methods and health psychology. In addition to mentoring her own students, she has served as quantitative methodologist on the dissertation committees of well over 100 doctoral students within and beyond psychology.

Former students credit her as an exemplary role model, a guiding force in their careers, as well as someone who will remain their mentor throughout their professional life.

"Leona's ability to successfully mentor her students, both while they were enrolled and after they graduated, was one of the things that convinced me to enroll in the social psychology Ph.D. program at ASU," says Mindy J. Erchull, now working as an assistant professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia. "She was a deciding factor that drew me to ASU."

"Mentoring to me is both a privilege and profound responsibility-to be granted the opportunity to work with gifted, motivated, and hopeful young people," says Aiken.

Dr. Terry Alford, a professor in the School of Materials, mentors students from several disciplines, including materials science, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, physics and chemistry. He has served as an advisor for the ASU Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) for the past ten years. His former doctoral students commend him for inspiring creativity and motivation, support and encouragement in research paper publication, help with finding research funding, mentoring skills for a diverse student population, particularly international students, and the fact that his students frequently get prestigious job offers prior to graduation.    

"Understanding the competitiveness in the research field, Dr. Alford always encourages students to collaborate with other faculty members and researchers around the globe," says former student Shekhar Bhagat, now an engineer at Intel Corp. "Professor Alford is a great human being along with a great researcher. He always encourages his student in pursuing and performing innovative research."

"A good mentor has an innate desire to listen to each student's thoughts and concerns, to remove any barriers to the students' success, and to identify and nurture the student's gifts," says Alford. "I believe that a mentor's ultimate satisfaction comes by the transformation of a student into a respected colleague."

Sandra Stauffer, a professor in the ASU Herberger Institute School of Music, chaired seven masters committees and seven doctoral committees last year. As an internationally recognized scholar, she co-authored the recently published book "Narrative Inquiry in Music Education: Troubling Certainty." Her students laud her for encouraging their personal successes, including publications, awards, and university teaching jobs after graduation. 

"Dr. Stauffer is one of the most positive, supportive teachers and mentors I have ever known," says Randall Kempton, a choral director at Brigham Young University in Idaho. "Her teaching style is stimulating, kind, generous, powerful and far-reaching. I recognize elements of her mentoring style re-surfacing spontaneously in my own interactions with students, 10 years after I left ASU."

"Mentoring is about the best job any of us have," says Stauffer. Her first mentor was her father, who convinced her she could do anything she wanted. "And I believe the same is true of my students. Nothing is impossible. Never, never quit!"

"It is a pleasure to honor faculty who put so much effort into mentoring their students in all aspects of their graduate education and continue this mentorship as the students progress in their careers," says Andrew Webber, the associate vice provost. "Their dedication to mentorship will be further rewarded as their students continue this tradition of strong mentorship throughout their own careers."

You can read the full mentoring essay by each of the award winners, as well as statements from past winners, at the Graduate College Web site

The three mentors were honored recently at a reception in the ASU University Club. Current and former students and associates participated in the celebration. 

The deadline for nominating the 2010 Outstanding Graduate Mentors is Dec. 31. In order to qualify for the award, nominees must be an ASU tenure/tenure track faculty and have mentored at least three students who have completed their doctoral or MFA degrees at ASU. For more information, visit