Daniel Akerib likes to tell stories and anecdotes about his experiences as a physics student and professor. It is just one way that the professor and chair of the department of physics—and a recipient of the 2007 J. Bruce Jackson, M.D., Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring—mentors his students.
"I think it helps them to see that people, who have gone before them, faced the same kinds of challenges they do. How those people dealt with those challenges, can be helpful for today's students," says Akerib.
"In my own personal experience, there are few professors I could credit with giving more help and guidance," said Akerib's anonymous nominator.
"Professor Akerib is well known to physics students due to his sincere willingness to go beyond the role of instructor to help his students: he makes an effort to know each student personally, and is by far the most popular professor to ask for a letter of recommendation," added the nominator.
Since Akerib joined the faculty in 1996, he has had several mentoring opportunities with students on both large and small scales.
On the smaller scale- but with a big impact, according to Akerib- he tries to integrate undergraduates in their early years at Case into his research group's work on dark matter and related research with the National Science Foundation-supported Cryogenic Dark Matter Search project, housed at Case.
"Working side-by-side with graduate students, postdocs and faculty in my lab, lets undergraduates see the full span of the career path by getting to know everyone in the group." While working, a free flow of information passes back and forth between students and mentor.
These students also get an apprenticeship in science research that has opened doors to some of the top-ranked graduate physics programs in the country at Brown University, Cornell University, University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, among others.
On a larger scale and with more students, Akerib has spent eight hours each week during the last several spring semesters in a third-year level physics lab with 10-20 students. Lab work naturally consumes most of the time, but it's fun to take some time simply getting to know students individually and helping them with their career decisions, he says.
What Akerib finds most rewarding about his work with the students is that "they become family members and you expect to learn from them over the years about what they are doing."
He regularly hears from former students from his research group like Aaron Manalaysay, who emailed Akerib recently to tell him to he was giving a talk during the American Physical Society meeting in Jacksonville, Fla. As it turns out Akerib was chairing that session.
"It's wonderful to cross paths in the professional setting with my former students," Akerib says.
"Mentoring is about forming those relationships with students and understanding where they want to go with their careers," he says. "It is also fun and reaffirming to have 1,000 new students on campus each fall, and then four years later they see them leave as college graduates."
Akerib adds, "It is wonderful to see that process and be apart of helping them grow and understand what they want to do with their lives."
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