By Brian Clark, Washington State Magazine
PULLMAN, Wash. – Amit Dhingra, associate professor of genomics and biotechnology at Washington State University, has been honored by the Council on Undergraduate Research for his long-term commitment to mentoring undergraduate researchers.
Dhingra received the CUR’s Biology Division Mid-Career Mentor Award from among nominees from about 750 participating universities. In the past 11 years, Dhingra has mentored nearly 100 undergraduates in 32 majors hailing from 16 U.S. universities. Many of those students, as evidenced by his Undergraduate Student Collective website, have gone on to science-related careers, won awards or otherwise found ways to make significant contributions to society.
Since 2011, many of the undergraduates mentored by Dhingra have worked in his lab through the National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experiences for Undergraduate program. Native Americans and other educationally underserved populations have especially benefited from Dhingra’s efforts, having established a network among institutions serving Native American students and other minority groups in Washington, Montana and Idaho.
The WSU graduate school has started a new summer research program on Undergraduate Research Opportunities for Native American Undergraduate students, which Dhingra is coordinating. Beyond WSU, Dhingra spent three weeks every summer from 2008-11 at Fort Valley State University, a Historically Black College University institution, to provide hands on research training in molecular biology to under-represented minority students.
Students mentored by Dhingra have worked in a wide variety of genomics and agricultural biotechnology areas, both in labs and in field-based collaborations with farmers. Undergraduates have contributed to our understanding of fire blight, a disease that can quickly devastate an apple orchard, plant water use, improving labor efficiency in cherry harvesting by studying abscission (the way the fruit separates — or doesn’t —from the stem), and oil-seed crop engineering.
According to Dhingra’s colleagues, he has developed, according to professor of horticulture N. Richard Knowles, an “uncanny ability to connect with and engage students, especially underrepresented minority students.” His student mentees indicate that Dhingra is willing to push them to participate outside of their comfort zones and enhanced their abilities and career options.
The CUR Award is far from Dhingra’s first. In 2008, the WSU Office of Undergraduate Research at awarded Dhingra an Undergraduate Research Excellence Award in recognition of his work with Danielle Druffel, a civil engineering major who worked on developing controlled plant growth units. This research enabled Druffel to win a SMART fellowship from the Department of Defense. In 2013, the WSU Honors College awarded Dhingra an Outstanding Thesis Advisor award for mentoring Ryan Christian on his Honors undergraduate thesis. Christian is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Dhingra’s program.
In addition to the numerous undergraduates who have worked in the Dhingra lab, his program has graduated eight Ph.D. students and six M.S. students.