Kwanhee Kim, a faculty member in the School of Molecular Biosciences, has been awarded this year’s Faculty Mentor Award for Excellence by the Graduate School. She received this award on April 4, 2019, at the Graduate School’s fifth annual Evening of Excellence.
“I am so surprised and honored,” Kim said. “I thank the Graduate School for providing me the opportunity to be a part of the Graduate Mentor Academy, with which I can do more for students who are in need of support.”
Being a faculty member at WSU for 30 years, Kim has mentored many graduate students in the School of Molecular Biosciences, offering them support on research and academics. Serving on the Graduate Mentor Academy, however, is quite special to her.
“To be a Mentor Academy member, I’m expected to provide students help on their defenses, but the help is usually not related to their research,” Kim explains.
The Graduate Mentor Academy is a group of faculty who volunteer to assist students during their preliminary exams and final defenses. Their primary duty is to provide students an unbiased and supportive climate during exams and defenses, making sure that university policies and procedures are followed, and correct protocol is observed.
Considering the unique responsibilities that the Graduate Mentor Academy shoulders, Kim regards her role as a mediator between students and their committee and aims to create a comfortable testing environment for them.
“I understand that some students meet difficulties in their defenses, not because their research is not good, but because there is miscommunication between them and their committee, or just because they feel nervous,” Kim said.
Although the Academy members are invited by the Graduate School to provide the service for a three‑year term, many of them, including Kim, are pleased to renew their term.
“Doing volunteer work is not new to me,” Kim said. “What’s more, when students succeed in their defenses with my support, I feel happy for them.”
Kim has served on the Mentor Academy since 2014. She recalls one experience that made an impression on her.
“The student was so nervous that she was about to cry,” Kim said. “So I stopped the defense for a while and helped her relax and have a drink of water. Finally, I resumed the defense after I was sure that the student could continue.”
This unforgettable experience makes Kim aware of how supportive a Mentor Academy member can be for a student and inspires her to continue serving.
Value of Mentoring
Kim appreciates working with students from disciplines other than her own, because, “it opens doors to learn something new,” she said.
Serving on the Mentor Academy also inspires Kim to be aware of students’ cultural backgrounds. She said, “Students from some countries are timid, and it affects their performance in defenses.”
Kim understands that shyness is often a cultural tradition, so some students need more encouragement to build their confidence for speaking in public, which produces success in defenses.
“Cultural background is always worth being considered, no matter if you are a faculty member or a Mentor Academy member,” Kim said.
The Graduate School established the Graduate Mentor Academy to provide additional mentoring support for students during challenging aspects of their program.