During the 29th Annual Spring Undergraduate Research & Creativity Symposium, held virtually April 24-25, Dr. Michael Dickey, Alcoa Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering was presented with the inaugural Outstanding Research Mentor Award from the Office of Undergraduate Research. Future recipients, honored annually at the Spring Symposium, will be presented with the Michael Dickey Outstanding Research Mentor Award. Nominations will be sought each year in early spring semester and a review committee will assist in determining recipients.
A longstanding partner of the office, Dr. Dickey has mentored numerous students through their research within the Dickey Research Group. When asked about his work with students, Dr. Dickey half-jokingly shared that his job is just to provide students with opportunities and that any sort of success is simply because students have taken advantage of those opportunities. “But,” he states, “I really do try my best to give opportunities to students. When I was an undergrad, I had the opportunity to do undergraduate research so I always want to try to pay that back.” A significant piece he wants his students to know is that what they’re working on is a part of something important. What they’re working on is their thing. When they go home at night, they can be thinking about their piece of work.
Involvement in research, combined with high academic achievement, has helped many of Dr. Dickey’s students win prestigious fellowships, including two Goldwater Scholars, a Churchill Scholar, a Truman Scholar, and a finalist for the Marshall Scholarship.
When asked about what characteristics make a good mentor, Dr. Dickey shared, “The first thing that comes to mind is caring. That goes a long way. And putting students first. Another thing is having some structure in place where you can make sure the student is supported. For example, I travel a lot and teach and have other responsibilities. I try to set the students up to be successful by pairing them with graduate students and making sure they know people in the lab and feel welcome. Part of it is just the attitude of knowing you want to help students and part of it is the logistics of making sure they’re put in a position where they can succeed.”
Dr. Dickey’s students shared their appreciation of this support, noting he helped them beyond research to achieve their passions personally and professionally. One recent alum shared, “His dedication and support has undoubtedly enabled me to pursue many of the opportunities I have after graduating from NC State and has prepared me for success in those endeavors.” Another student, sharing her thoughts with Dr. Dickey, said, “Not only have you provided me with great opportunities in research, but you have taught me the important skills of how to learn and solve problems. It means so much to me that you are always quick and eager to answer my questions, provide insight to my ideas, and help me. Thank you very much for everything you do! Thank you for believing in the students when we don’t always believe in ourselves!”
A recent recipient of the 2020 Alumni Association Outstanding Research Award, Dr. Dickey has been honored with numerous research and teaching accolades, including the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor Award, Alumni Association Outstanding Teacher Award, and the Alcoa Foundation Distinguished Engineering Research Award, to name a few. The Office of Undergraduate Research is honored to present this inaugural award to a true champion of undergraduate research.
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