Distinguished Mentor Award

Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar Distinguished Mentor Award

The Graduate School established the Distinguished Mentor Award in 2006 to honor and encourage the considerable efforts and accomplishments of faculty who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the mentorship of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The Distinguished Mentor Award is for faculty from any discipline.

The award recognizes faculty who stand out for effectively guiding graduate students and postdoctoral scholars throughout their professional training in a continuing, multifaceted partnership sustained by mutual respect and concern. In addition, the award recognizes faculty who make a broad impact on mentorship by facilitating communities or building infrastructure for mentorship of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

2020 Distinguished Mentor Award Recipients

Dr. Pearl Sandick

Dr. Pearl Sandick

Associate Professor
Department of Physics and Astronomy

Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs
College of Science


Dr. William Smith

Dr. William Smith

Professor and Chair
Department of Education, Culture and Society
College of Education

Professor of Ethnic Studies
School of Cultural and Social Transformation

I believe the key goals in being a successful mentor are to understand that there is unfinished business that needs to be done, unlimited (and maybe untapped) potential in people to accomplish this work, be receptive to the best information available (even if it conflicts with your previous beliefs), and believing that being a service to humanity is bigger than one person’s job to complete. Mentors can be found in the most unlikely places and from a diverse set of people with varying experiences. I have been privileged to have mentors who have invested in me, and continue to, throughout each stage of my life. One of my mentors, Dr. Phillip J. Bowman, recently encouraged me to consider these words, “as elders, let us continue to be thankful for both our intergenerational mentoring roles and the inspiration we receive from each new generation.” I have received valuable advice and growth from people who have freely invested their time and experiences with me. For instance, the janitorial staff in my building shared personal anecdotes about the limited reach of academic opportunities and scholarship information and exposure in their communities from postsecondary institutions. These stories motivate me to be a wiser and more informed person. Important influences also come from former and current students who encourage me to be more aware of various ways people experience psychosocial phenomena like gendered racism inside and outside of higher education. To be sure, my greatest influencers have been the previous generations of “ordinary” people who have been the backbone of our society and fighters for civil and human rights. Their advice and examples have been immeasurable in my development, and Gwendolyn Smith, my mother, a retired Chicago Public School teacher is at the top of this list. These are the ingredients that I bring into my role as a mentor who carefully listens, tries to develop a trustful environment, who listens to influencers, and then tries to respond in an effective manner where one can benefit from my insight. Dr. Bowman is a person who listened to my early developmental theories as a graduate student and he acted as if I was the only person who had access to his valuable and limited time. Later, I learned from the stories of many other people that they felt the same way about him. Consequently, my primary goal has been to make sure that if people bestow the title of mentor upon me, then I want them to have my full attention and dedication to their success. I am fortunate to be able to exercise this practice in the African American Doctoral Scholars Initiative Program, a recruitment, retention, and mentoring project that Drs. Paula Smith, Laurence Parker, and I created at the University of Utah. This has been a very rewarding mentoring experience for each of us. We hope this program will successfully nurture, mentor, and graduate more Black scholars from every graduate program at the university.


Dr. Gregory E. Smoak

Dr. Gregory E. Smoak

Director, American West Center
Associate Professor
Department of History
College of Humanities

After teaching at three different universities and a community college as well as directing numerous collaborative community-engaged public history projects over the past three decades, I have become firmly convinced that we must demystify the profession of history, pull back the curtain so to speak, for our students. At the graduate level demystification entails professionalization.  In the classroom this demands greater attention to deeper historiography.  I am constantly struck by how little we teach the history of our own profession. In many cases graduate seminars are focused only on the “latest and the greatest” scholarship, apparently assuming that graduate students will absorb the rest through osmosis. While it is absolutely essential that graduate students are conversant with the most current scholarship, I firmly believe that they should also know the foundations of that scholarship. For this reason, I devote the first few weeks of my reading seminars to the deeper historiography of the given field.

More importantly, professionalization must also take place outside of the classroom. Even if we do a good job teaching our students methods and theory, we must go beyond that academic base and prepare them to be working professionals. Modeling good professional behavior is a start; membership in professional organizations, conferences going, attending job talks and the like. But it is even more critical to expose our graduate students to the many career options for historians and provide them opportunities to garner experience in these areas. The projects we undertake at the American West Center give graduate students real-world experience doing applied history and public humanities. Moreover, I ensure that AWC graduate assistants are exposed to the daily operations of the center and learn about the process of acquiring contracts and grants as well as the demands of project management. My goal is for my students to leave our program as professional historians no matter what career path they follow.


Dr. Sheila E. Crowell

Dr. Sheila E. Crowell

Associate Professor
Department of Psychology
College of Social and Behavioral Science