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The Viterbi School Lauded as the School with the Best Mentoring Culture at the USC Mellon Awards

Faculty members Francisco Valero-Cueva, Paul Newton and Jill McNitt-Gray win top honors in undergraduate and faculty mentoring categories

April 25, 2011 —

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Culture of Mentoring Award winners: from left, Viterbi deans Raghu Raghavendra, Maja Matarić, John O'Brien, Yannis Yortsos and Timothy Pinkston, with event chair Charles Gomer. (all photos by Lee Salem)

The Viterbi School of Engineering was in the spotlight at the Mellon Mentoring Awards Ceremony, with the school receiving the event’s signature distinction, and two professors winning individual honors.

At the April 19th event, Deans Yannis Yortsos, Maja Matarić, John O'Brien, Timothy Pinkston and Raghu Raghavendra received the Culture of Mentoring Award.

This concept is central to the Mellon Awards, which have been given annually since 2008, with the specific idea of “fostering a sustained culture of mentoring,” said Charles Gomer, the chair of the event, in his introductory remarks.

The reading of a statement on mentoring submitted by Yortsos followed the presentation of the Culture of Mentoring Award to the Viterbi deans.

"Mentoring is a most fundamental continuous act in helping the intellectual and spiritual growth of a human being, in their quest for forging their path in life,” the statement begins. “It is different and additive to nurturing, which connotes a parent-child relation with a material component. Rather, it is a relationship of soon-to-be equals.

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Undergraduate Mentoring Award winner Francisco Valero-Cuevas, center, with Mentor event co-chair Timothy Pinkston, left and Chair Charles Gomer
“The mentor is an inexhaustible source of mental and psychological support, which solidifies one's fortitude and helps unleash one's potential. Mentoring provides texture, advice and context to help individuals increase their vision of the future, hone their skills, solidify their approach, and stoke their passion.

“It requires mutual trust, sincerity, and respect; and provides the priceless enjoyment of helping someone reach their potential to the fullest. It is a wonderful process of discovery, for both the mentor and the mentee. It is therefore quintessentially human. For this reason, mentoring has a natural and required home in academic and research environments. We are fortunate to be able to be in the position to be practicing and celebrating it," the statement concludes.

Viterbi School professors Francisco Valero-Cuevas (BME) and Paul K. Newton (AME) also received awards for mentoring undergraduates and faculty respecti, and presented their ideas on the relationship in remarks printed in the program. Jill McNitt-Gray, the Director of the USC Biomechanics Research Lab, who has a joint appointment in BME, also received an award.

Valero-Cuevas, a recipient of the award for undergraduate mentoring, wrote that “every interaction with our trainees (be they high school students or assistant professors) can and should be used as an opportunity to foster creativity and promote excellence. … Mentoring can help promote interactions that were not thought possible--with the benefit of enabling the creative process to flourish against all odds.”

Newton received the award for mentoring peers, fellow faculty members. “Developing trust in a faculty-to-faculty pairing isn't always easy,” he wrote, “but when it thrives there are great rewards that extend well beyond the cooperative individuals involved. There are no simple tricks or deep insights to effective mentoring except to say that the key is to pick a good mentee."

Two of the Viterbi deans who shared the culture of mentoring award were also part of the ceremony itself.

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Pinkston, Faculty Mentoring Award winner Paul K. Newton, and Gomer

Maja Matarić, who recently received a special mentoring award from President Barack Obama and who was honored with the Provost's Mentoring Award at the USC Convoction, presented the Mellon honor for graduate student mentorship.

And Timothy Pinkston served as co-chair of the event and delivered its closing remarks, in which he emphasized that “mentoring is beneficial not only to the mentee but also to the mentor and the organization of which both are a part. We endeavor as an institution to make mentoring a natural part of our fabric, part of our identity, an unencumbered interaction and sharing between the more experienced and the less experienced that is readily practiced by our faculty, staff, and students.”

Click here for the complete program, containing the thoughts of the award winners on mentoring.