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Maxon named recipient of WVU’s inaugural outstanding graduate research mentoring award

Robert Maxon, professor in West Virginia University’s Department of History, has been named the recipient of the inaugural Faculty Award for Outstanding Graduate Research Mentoring for his work with PhD students studying African History. 

Robert Maxon

Jointly sponsored by the Office of Graduate Education and Life and the Research Office, the award was created in the 2018-2019 academic year to honor faculty who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the mentorship of graduate students.

“The criteria for this award included 12 examples of how one might be an excellent mentor,” said Associate Vice President for Creative and Scholarly Activities Melanie Page, who coordinated the selection committee. “What set the finalists and ultimately the award recipient apart was how far above and beyond expectations they go for their students. The mentorship, professionalism and respect they show to their students is literally life-changing. This was the common theme in the letters of recommendation we received regarding Dr. Maxon.”

In his 50 years of service at WVU, Maxon has mentored 25 doctoral students, including 19 African-American and African students, assisting them with their dissertation research and guiding them through the essentials of professionalization, from job searches to more than 30 books published..

Maxon employs a variety of strategies to ensure that each of his students completes their degree in timely fashion, often assisting them in finding jobs in academia or public service along the way. Through his mentorship, students learn essential research skills, such as navigating historical archives and working with primary source materials. Under his supervision, several students have produced studies that are now recognized by specialists as the standard treatment of their topics.

Maxon’s students have gone on to extremely successful careers in and out of academia. Six of his mentees have served as university department chairs and three have served as deans; another 14 hold teaching positions at institutions of higher education. Outside academia, his students have served in the departments of Defense and State and as Air Force historians, policy analysts and elected officials.

During his tenure, Maxon has also helped to establish connections between WVU and Moi, Nairobi and Maseno universities in Kenya as well as the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. In all, nine individuals from these institutions completed PhDs in History as a means of building teaching capacity at those institutions at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

The Outstanding Graduate Research Mentoring Award, which the University anticipates awarding annually going forward, requires nomination from current and former graduate students, faculty or staff. This year, the selection committee reviewed nominations and solicited a full application from semi-finalists. Five finalists were identified in four disciplinary categories: Physical Sciences and Technology, Humanities and the Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences and Biosciences and Health Sciences.

In addition to Maxon, the Humanities and the Arts finalist, who was chosen to receive a $5,000 award, the other finalists for 2018-2019 were:

·      Sam Zizzi, Sport and Exercise Psychology (Behavioral and Social Sciences)

·      Justin Legleiter, Chemistry (Physical Sciences and Technology)

·      Usha Sambamoorthi, Pharmaceutical Systems and Policy and Kyle Hartman, Wildlife and Fisheries Resources (tied in the area of Biosciences and Health Sciences)

“Graduate education depends on the commitment and involvement of excellent faculty mentors who help their students learn to conduct high quality research and scholarship and to acquire the professional skills needed for career success. All of the finalists for this award are caring and effective mentors for their students,” said Associate Provost for Graduate Education Katherine Karraker. “The selection committee and I look forward to recognizing even more of our outstanding graduate research mentors in all fields in future years.” 

As the award’s first recipient, Maxon will receive a $5,000 honorarium and will be honored by President Gee and Provost McConnell at the annual Faculty and Staff Awards Celebration later this month.