2 School of Life Sciences faculty members receive Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award

March 7, 2022

On Feb. 28, the Graduate College at Arizona State University virtually recognized four faculty members from across the university with 2021–22 Outstanding Faculty Mentor Awards. Of those faculty members were two awardees from the School of Life Sciences.

Every year, the Graduate College recognizes outstanding faculty members for their service to the graduate student and postdoctoral scholar communities through mentoring excellence, commitment to professional development and career advancement, and the fostering of inclusive, collaborative academic environments.  Side-by-side portraits of ASU professors Jeffrey Jensen and Janet Neisewander of ASU's School of Life Sciences. Jeffrey Jensen and Janet Neisewander of the School of Life Sciences. Download Full Image

“Having a mentor as a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow is crucial to one’s success and development as both a leader and a scientist,” said Kenro Kusumi, dean of natural sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Janet and Jeffrey demonstrate the overwhelmingly positive impact mentorship can have on a student or postdoc’s trajectory. Their dedication to their students and postdocs, and to the School of Life Sciences community, is truly outstanding. We are tremendously grateful for their contributions.”

Meet the award recipients and learn more about what makes them outstanding mentors: 

Jeffrey Jensen, Outstanding Postdoctoral Mentor

Jensen has served as a professor in the School of Life Sciences, the Center for Evolution and Medicine and the Center for Mechanisms of Evolution since 2016. His research focuses on theoretical and computational population genetics and evolutionary genomics.

He was born and raised in Phoenix and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona. He earned his PhD at Cornell University and did his postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Diego and the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to coming to ASU, he held faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Jensen’s research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the European Research Council and the Swiss National Science Foundation. He is currently funded by an NIH Established-Investigator MIRA award. As a postdoctoral mentor, Jensen believes it is key to appreciate the unique perspectives that each individual brings to the table.

“I have always felt appreciation for all my current and former postdocs. The adviser-advisee relationship is very much a two-way street, and the intellect and dedication of my postdoctoral trainees over the years has contributed at least as much to my career as mine has contributed to theirs,” Jensen said. “As a faculty member, you have the opportunity to recruit and hire the brightest young minds from across the world and work together on the questions that interest you most. I've always felt that postdocs should be treated as colleagues, and not as worker bees. When all parties are freely contributing their full time, energy and ideas, you are virtually guaranteed to end up with better science than any of you could've managed on your own.”

Jensen was nominated by Parul Johri, a postdoctoral research associate in the School of Life Sciences.

“Jeff is one of the best advisers I have seen in my academic career,” Johri said. “He is an excellent and thoughtful mentor, highly invested in the future of each of his lab members. He asked me at the start of my postdoc about my career goals, and has since helped me achieve those. I am very appreciative of everything he has done to make me a better scientist. Most importantly, he has been a constant source of motivation and support throughout my postdoc, which can be especially important during hard times like being on the job market.”

Janet Neisewander, Outstanding Doctoral Mentor

Neisewander has been at the university for over 30 years, serving as a professor in the Department of Psychology, the School of Life Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. As a behavioral neuroscientist, she uses animal models to study mechanisms of drug abuse.

Her work contributes to understanding the development and treatment of drug addiction and provides new insights into the brain mechanisms involved in emotional processing, learning and memory.

Neisewander earned her bachelor’s degree from Rockford University and graduate degrees from the University of Kentucky. She completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to ASU, she held positions at the University of Kentucky and the University of Pennsylvania. After learning that she was selected for the award, Neisewander said she was thrilled and filled with gratitude for her students.

“I was very excited, and I actually felt a little funny being rewarded for something that I enjoy doing,” Neisewander said. “As I was thinking about it, I came to realize that my students should share the award with me because I have learned as much from them as they have from me. It's been a highly rewarding experience.”

Throughout her career, Neisewander has persevered in spite of the challenges she has encountered as a woman in a male-dominated field.

“It has taken a lot of resilience, really,” she said. “It's important to be heard and not to become discouraged. Women and other underrepresented individuals need to remember that they belong at the table, and that having diverse teams working on problems is the best way to find solutions. With time, more and more people are realizing this. I have already seen progress being made in that direction in my 30 years, but we still have a ways to go. Being aware of what individuals need to feel supported will help everyone to thrive.”

Neisewander was nominated by Mark Namba, a graduate student studying neuroscience.

“Dr. Neisewander has a unique ability to nurture the individual creativity and intellect of her students, and helps them reach their goals no matter what they are. She is a lifelong mentor to so many people, both within and outside of her lab, and she has been committed to training students from all walks of life her entire career," Namba said. "For these reasons, I was honored to have had the opportunity to nominate her for the Outstanding Doctoral Mentor Award.”

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Students to apply Socratic method in fall 2022 ASU course

CEL 394: Comparative Political Thought aims to stimulate critical thinking

March 7, 2022

Arizona State University Assistant Professor Karen Taliaferro has a big course ahead for the fall 2022 semester, and the path is not predictable.

Her course, Comparative Political Thought, is an invitation to students of all backgrounds to examine Western civilization’s fundamental texts of political thought — from Plato and Aristotle to John Locke — in dialogue with texts from different global traditions, including Islam, Judaism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Students talking in a classroom.

These sources are discussed using the Socratic method, a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking.

“The Socratic method allows us to keep an open mind and question our own assumptions,” Taliaferro said.

CEL 394: Comparative Political Thought (class #94866) is open to students of all majors and units. It caters to students dedicated to the humanities, and to those who are seeking an elective that will inspire them to be informed citizens. The course is offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. during Session C on the Tempe campus.

In this course, students will engage in participative discussions comparing texts across civilizations, religions and traditions, addressing basic political principles, such as justice and order, from multiple perspectives. 

“Western civilization’s great heritage of political thought calls us to remain vigilant about today’s challenges by diving into humanity’s most important questions of self-governance, justice, individualism and civic life. We understand the present by reflecting upon the principles and texts from the past,” Taliaferro said.

The course will focus on sources of political authority, ideas of membership in a political community, the relationship between reason and religion in a polity, constitutionalism, and natural or human rights. 

“This course is a great opportunity for students of all majors and minors who are interested in our society’s great questions of justice, power, community, reason, religion and how these aspects impact our daily lives. We will read classics of political thought, writings from different traditions and contemporary texts,” Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro has been a faculty member at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership since the school was founded at ASU in 2017 and dedicates her research to ancient and medieval political philosophy, religion and politics, with a particular emphasis on Islamic thought. Her 2019 book "The Possibility of Religious Freedom: Early Natural Law and the Abrahamic Faiths" examines the conflict of divine law and human law in sources ranging from ancient Greece to medieval Islam, and asks whether various traditions of natural law might mitigate the conflict.

We understand the present by reflecting upon the principles and texts from the past.
— Assistant Professor Karen Taliaferro

Karen Taliaferro

Taliaferro graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and French from Marquette University. She then went on to earn a master’s degree and a PhD in government from Georgetown University, as well as additional training in classics from Northwestern University. She has previously taught humanities and great books at Villanova University, and has held research fellowships at the James Madison Program at Princeton University, as well as Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Doha, Qatar. 

Comparative Political Thought integrates the fall 2022 list of courses offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The school combines philosophy, history, economics and political science to examine great ideas and solve contemporary problems. Courses such as Great Ideas in Politics and Ethics; Debating Capitalism; Politics and Leadership in the Age of Revolutions: 1776-1826; and Globalism, Nationalism and Citizenship prepare students for careers in such fields as business, law, public office, philanthropy, teaching and journalism, among others.

Marcia Paterman Brookey

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership