Three COEIT faculty honored for dedication to mentoring students  

Three faculty in UMBC’s College of Engineering and Information Technology (COEIT) have received distinguished awards from leading professional organizations for their commitment to mentoring students and advancing engineering education.

Amy Hurst, assistant professor of information systems, has been named a recipient of the National Center for Women and Information Technologys Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award 2016, which she will receive at the group’s Summit on Women and IT in May.

Hurst studies accessibility issues and develops assistive technologies and tools to empower others to build their own assistive technologies. During her five years at UMBC, Hurst has mentored more than 40 undergraduate students and nearly 25 graduate students. She engages students in her lab in various ways, and says that mentoring students is a huge part of why she is a professor.

“Students are embedded in my research lab by conducting independent research, supporting my PhD students’ research, and maintaining our lab equipment,” says Hurst. “Through working in my lab, undergraduate students have gained valuable experiences and been very successful.”

Over the past five summers, she has also hosted 11 undergraduates from other institutions in her lab through the Distributed Research Experiences for Undergraduates (DREU) program. The program allows students to work alongside UMBC students and complete meaningful research, while having access to a faculty mentor.

Hurst prioritizes meeting with all of her students at least once each week to discuss ongoing projects. “I have found that this topic [DIY assistive technology] is engaging for undergraduate researchers interested in having real-world impact and working with special populations,” she says.

Hurst’s award follows state and national recognition of Anne Spence, professor of practice in mechanical engineering, and Marie desJardins, associate dean of COEIT and professor of computer science, as mentors and advocates for engineering education.

Spence received the Engineering and Technology Education Advocacy Award from the Technology and Engineering Educators Association of Maryland (TEEAM) in February. The award recognized her substantial contributions to Project Lead the Way, a national organization focused on increasing the number, quality and diversity of engineers in the U.S. by effectively engaging more K-12 students in engineering through energetic, hands-on learning experiences.

In July, desJardins will be presented with the Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentoring Award from the Computing Research Association-Education (CRA-E). The award recognizes her work advancing computer science education in K-12 schools and preparing young women to pursue majors and careers in computer-related fields.

Since 2005, desJardins has mentored more than 70 undergraduate students, many of whom have gone on to pursue graduate programs in computing. She connects with undergraduate students during their first two years, and guides more senior students—particular those with research experience—in serving as peer mentors.

Hurst shares desJardins’s focus on engaging undergraduates in research through the support mentoring provides. “Mentoring has always been a priority to me, particularly helping students who are interested in research but have had little experience or exposure to it,” Hurst explains. “I feel that mentorship is one of the best ways to support students as they grow intellectually and make their career choices.”

Image: Amy Hurst talks with a student in her lab. Photo by Tim Ford, coordinator of illustrative services in the biological sciences department at UMBC.