Scott White to receive campus award for guiding undergraduate research
Even with an over 27-year career at the University of Illinois, during which he guided the research of approximately 200 undergraduates, Scott White says his teaching philosophy continues to evolve along with his students. “Undergraduates change, their interests change, and the mechanisms by which they communicate and interact change,” White says. “Unless the advisor is willing to change and adapt, we risk irrelevance in the undergraduate research experience.”
White will be recognized for his stellar mentoring this spring when he receives the University of Illinois award for Excellence in Guiding Undergraduate Research.
Undergrads who want to conduct research begins with a thorough and extensive interview process. From the interview, White says he’s interested in learning not only the background and expertise of the student is examined, but also their goals and ambition for their career.
Once the interview process is over a rather elaborate training program is undertaken in which safety procedures and cleaning and basic laboratory skills are taught. “Students who make it through the training have demonstrated a level of motivation and perseverance above the norm and are well on their way to a successful undergraduate research experience,” White says. He pairs all of the undergrads with a senior Ph.D. student or post-doctoral research associate so they have someone to go to for help even when White is out of town.
But beyond the level of technical expertise required and the logistical details, White says sustained excellence in guiding and mentoring undergraduate researchers is based on personal trust and respect.
“The most important aspect remains a personal connection with the student,” White says, “one based on mutual respect and always striving to achieve goals that stretch the abilities of the undergrads.”
One former student recalls working with White on a new research endeavor developing artificial microvascular systems. “As an undergraduate student, I was both excited and nervous to be given the opportunity trail blaze such cutting-edge technology. Professor White assisted me with learning the details of the fabrication process and researching similar microfluidic applications. I met with him weekly to discuss my progress and define next steps. Professor White proved to be a motivated and ambitious advisor. He responded to progress with modest praise and by setting even greater objectives. Admittedly, seeing the bar raised further out of reach could feel exhausting at times, but Professor White’s determination taught me to avoid settling for mediocre goals and to accept challenges I might feel are outside my comfort zone.”
White will receive his award at the Celebration of Teaching Excellence on Thursday, April 12, 2018, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the ballroom at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center.