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 August 1, 2019

These mentors make summer research memorable

Laurel Carney and Roman Sobolewski have been recognized for their mentorship of undergraduates in their research labs.

Benjamin Richardson ’21 is grateful he could spend this summer in a research lab where undergraduates are “given the same respect as far more knowledgeable students and faculty.”

Undergraduate Anthony Pericolo ’20 says he is finishing his summer research program as “a better scientist” thanks to the strong guidance and “nuanced, detailed feedback” he received.

Both credit their University of Rochester faculty mentors – Laurel Carney and Roman Sobolewski – who are the inaugural recipients of a new mentorship award from the University’s David T. Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity, which sponsors several summer research programs for undergraduates.

“These awards were started because of the importance we want to emphasize on the mentorship of research opportunities for undergraduates, especially for first-generation, low-income and minority students,” says Anthony Plonczynski-Figueroa, director of operations for the Kearns Center. “Both of these faculty members have shown an especially strong commitment to these areas.”

Carney, the Marylou Ingram Professor in Biomedical Engineering, has worked with Beth Olivares, executive director of the Kearns Center and dean for diversity in Arts, Science and Engineering, on ways to diversify faculty.  She is also among the first faculty members to mentor a student in the center’s new Kearns Summer Research Scholar Program, which was inaugurated this year to enhance the research experience of students working in labs independently of the center’s formal programs. The students are entitled to the same career and GRE prep seminars, for example, and career outreach and social activities as students participating in such Kearns Center programs as the Xerox Engineering Research Fellows and the Ronald E. McNair program. The Kearns Center also sponsors or helps administer three NSF-funded REU (research experiences for undergraduates) programs.

Sobolewski, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, has been a mentor in the McNair program since its inception in 1992. He was also the PhD advisor for the program’s first PhD awardee, Carlo Williams ’94 (MS ’95) (PhD ’01).

The center requested recommendations from students to help determine the award winners, Plonczynski-Figueroa says.

The recommendations for Carney and Sobolewski “stood out,” he says, “because of what the students wrote and the multiple recommendations that came in. We are very excited about these inaugural winners.”

For example, Richardson, one of the inaugural Kearns Summer Research Scholars, says that Carney “exceeded every expectation I could have had for a faculty mentor. It is clear in everything she does that she is not only incredibly passionate about what she studies, but passionate about the success of her students.” Students “are instructed to interrupt any presentation in order to ask questions” and “receive consistent and helpful feedback on presentations and analyses we prepare.”

Grace Niyo ’21, a Xerox Engineering Research Fellow, says Carney has been not only a mentor, but a friend to her. “She always advises us about classes that might be relevant for our academic interests, conferences and summer programs to apply to, and things we should be doing to prepare ourselves for graduate school.”

Pericolo, also a Xerox Engineering Research Fellow, appreciated how Sobolewski set aside time for him to get to know all the students in his lab, “making me feel at home.”

Sobolewski “went above and beyond,” he adds, when the project Pericolo and a PhD student were working on came to a standstill earlier in the summer.

“Our measurements were neither consistent with theory nor repeatable, and the project as on the verge of abandonment,” Pericolo says. Thanks to Sobolewski’s “guidance through sharing research papers and posing tough questions,” the students were able to redesign their experiments.

“Dr. Sobolewski’s leadership in the lab turned a seemingly directionless project into one that will produce a paper and a patent.”