Logo: University of Southern California

Three Computer Science Faculty Win USC Mentoring Awards

"USC Mellon Mentoring Awards honor individual faculty for helping build a supportive academic environment"

April 07, 2009 —

Maja Mataric´, David Kempe and Sven Koenig's support for their students was recognized April 21 when they received 2008-2009 USC Mellon Awards for Excellence in Mentoring.

Mataric´, a Viterbi School Senior Associate Dean for Research and faculty member of the School's Department of Computer Science, received an award for graduate mentoring by faculty for her work with students on robotics.

Kempe and Koenig, also in the Department of Computer Science, are recipients of awards for undergraduate mentoring for their coaching of USC teams who have entered and successfully competed in computer programming contests in recent years.

Maja Mentorweb
Maja Mataric´ with Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Martin Levine, left,  and Michael Jackson, V.P. for Student Affairs, right.
"I got my award presumably because I have placed a large number of PhD students and postdocs into academic positions, including a significant number of women and under-represented groups," said the associate dean. "Of the 8 PhDs I have graduated to date, 4 now hold academic positions, so that's a good 50% rate (let's see if I can keep it next year when I graduate 3 more)."

She added that her students and post-docs can now be found working at institutions including  Brown University, Texas A&M University, University of California Merced, U. Nevada Reno, Simon Fraser University, EPFL in Switzerland, ENSTA in Paris, and others.  

The secret? "My mentoring method is to meet with every student individually weekly, and to have lab meetings every other week or so, with cooked food (everyone takes turns cooking), all students present as if at a conference and get critiqued, all write grant proposals and papers early on, all present their own work at conferences, all mentor undergrads and MS students as part of their PhD, and so. 

"I'd say I'm very lucky: while I am very good at selecting PhD students and mentor them heavily, in the end the credit for their success (such as my former students getting the PECASE Awards, Sloan Fellowship, NSF Career Awards, ONR Early Career Award, AFOSR Early Career Awards, Canadian equivalent of an NSF ERC center, and so on) is their own, and I'm just glad I got to work with these amazing people and that we still continue to collaborate."

Koenig and Kempe were co-coaches of the undergraduate teams recruited through a USC programming contest talent search, and then groomed for intercollegiate competition.

Levine, Sven Koenig, David Kempe, Jackson

"Since Sven and I got the award for organizing the programming contest, we would like to acknowledge the following:"

According to the official criteria for the Mellon Awards,

"Great mentoring for academic success occurs at USC through both informal and formal means, and may vary considerably from discipline to discipline. Thus, the main criterion for all four awards is the demonstration of a continued commitment to mentoring, and effectiveness in mentoring.

Individual Faculty Awards will be given to faculty members who consistently do one or more of the following:

  1. Offer sound counsel and valuable information to their mentees in order to advance and develop the mentee’s own path to academic and professional success.
  2. Generously share their valuable time and expertise in critiquing the mentee’s work.
  3. Help to create a vital and engaged academic community in their school and at USC.
  4. Involve peers and students in publications, grants and conferences, as well as readily sharing knowledge of such opportunities.
  5. Make others aware of the contributions and value of their mentees.
  6. Serve as role models for their colleagues by maintaining high standards for excellence within their own discipline and at the level of the larger University.