More than a Mentor

Written By: Kasey Harris

The Fellowship Advising Office (FAO) helps students and alumni to identify and apply for more than 80 prestigious, nationally competitive, funded award opportunities.

These external awards provide full funding to pursue extraordinary activities such as language study, graduate school, and research. The FAO also offers faculty the opportunity to serve on selection committees, review award applications, and to mentor curious and talented NC State students and alumni.  

Dr. Sandra Paur of the mathematics department and Dr. James Knopp of the biochemistry department have both served on the NC State Goldwater Scholarship campus selection committee and as fellowship mentors since the 1990s. Soon after joining the selection committee, Dr. Paur was asked to lead it.  She realized a need to provide students with feedback on their applications and chose to refocus the group on mentorship. “We would mentor every student that applied, whether they end up being a nominee or not,” explains Dr. Paur.

Dr. Knopp heeded the call for mentorship with exuberance. “I feel, as a faculty member, I have a responsibility to help

mentor students” notes Dr. Knopp. One such student, Evan Brooks, a senior in biological science, recalls meeting with Dr. Knopp his sophomore year after his first Goldwater Scholarship application submission. Brooks was able to translate feedback from the committee along with guidance from Dr. Knopp into future successes. As a result, he earned a research fellowship from the Society for Developmental Biology in spring of 2016 and a 2017 Goldwater Honorable Mention from the Goldwater Foundation. “I knew Dr. Knopp would be an honest and direct mentor, and I knew that he wanted to make sure that I was putting the best version of myself and my work forward on the national stage. I am so thankful for that” says Brooks, who will begin his doctoral studies in developmental biology at the University of Cincinnati in fall 2018.

Dr. Tiffany Kershner and Ms. Alsace Gallop of FAO are thankful for the guidance, commitment, and insight both Dr. Paur and Dr. Knopp have brought to the campus selection committee. Their holistic approach to the process has helped students earn a number of honors and awards. This commitment to student success has been the driving force behind their partnership with FAO.

Dr. James Knopp with The Wufs

Dr. Paur approaches her role as a faculty mentor as a resource for students. “It is really about letting them know what kinds of opportunities are out there like research experiences for undergraduates,” says Dr. Paur. She also encourages students to apply for opportunities such as honors programs, study abroad trips, and graduate school. “It’s really fun to see students blossom,” explains Dr. Paur.

Christopher Cooper, a 2017 graduate with a double major in chemical engineering and economics, recalls meeting Dr. Paur his junior year to discuss his class schedule. The meeting led Cooper to enroll in several advanced mathematics class taught by Dr. Paur. When he decided to apply for the Churchill Scholarship, he knew Dr. Paur would be a perfect choice for a letter of recommendation. Cooper credits Dr. Paur’s dedication to her students as what has made her an incredible mentor to him and many others within the Wolfpack community.

Dr. Knopp and Dr. Paur are dedicated faculty members who strive to ensure their students are successful at NC State and beyond. Their emphasis on students’ work and research, while important, is not the sole focus. They seek to emphasize the importance of how students present themselves, making sure to connect how their work impacts people and the world around them.

Courtney Vaughn, a 2014 graduate in biological science, can attest to the impact of Dr. Knopp’s mentorship. She served as a teaching assistant for Dr. Knopp for two years and would often look to him for professional guidance and mentorship. “I could tell I was valued and respected as a fellow educator and scientist, and having someone who is so accomplished have that interaction with you so early in your career is a very powerful thing” states Vaughn. Dr. Knopp believes in the value mentorship can bring to the student experience and encourages students and faculty to get involved with these opportunities.

This year marks the last year on the NC State Goldwater Scholarship campus selection committee for both Dr. Knopp and Dr. Paur, both of whom will be retiring at the end of the spring semester. Both Dr. Paur and Dr. Knopp are grateful for the experience of being able to work with students, and would encourage everyone to begin exploring all the opportunities for fellowships as early as possible. For more information about fully funded opportunities, please contact the Fellowship Advising Office.