Two faculty members recognized for extraordinary mentoring of graduate students


Two faculty members were recently recognized with the first Clemson University Distinguished Doctoral Mentoring Awards for their commitment to doctoral student success.

Lori Dickes, associate professor of political science and director of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program

Lori Dickes, an associate professor of political science and the director of the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, and Hai Yao, the Ernest R. Norville Endowed Chair in Biomedical Engineering and a professor in the bioengineering department, were honored at the May 2021 doctoral hooding ceremony.

When a faculty member agrees to serve as the dissertation committee chair (also known as the major adviser) for a doctoral student, they make a commitment to mentor that student for the next several years. As the student progresses through coursework, to dissertation research and writing, to receiving their Ph.D., the major adviser nurtures their growth as a researcher, educator, writer scholar and eventual colleague.  This important relationship lives on long after the student graduates and moves into the professional stage of their lives.

Thanks to her support, students learn how to think for themselves and aapply their expertise to solving pertinent problems in the real world.

A colleague speaking of Lori Dickes

Dickes has chaired the majority of recent dissertation committees in the policy studies Ph.D. program. One of her colleagues said in support of her award nomination that “thanks to Dickes’ advice and encouragement, students don’t just… finish their degrees; they also forge connections across campus, the state of South Carolina, and broader communities of scholars and practitioners. Above all, they learn how to think for themselves and apply their expertise to solving pertinent problems in the real world.”

In his time at Clemson, Yao has graduated 12 Ph.D. students in bioengineering and mentored 12 postdoctoral trainees, in addition to many master’s students and summer interns. He has served as the major research adviser to 12 MUSC graduate researchers and 37 summer trainees as well. With his students as first authors, he has co-authored 96 conference proceedings and more than 72 peer-reviewed publications in top journals, resulting in 23 prestigious fellowships and 26 awards for the students involved.

One former student mentored by Dr. Yao from her undergraduate days to her current role as a professor says, “Dr. Yao puts the mentee at the center, and it is his expectation that his mentees surpass him.” Another says, “Dr. Yao was extremely dedicated to working with me and passing on all he knows in terms of knowledge, research tradition, the academic network, and so much more…. His mentorship “helps the mentees explore their inner strength and leverage it to seek their own destinies.”

He encouraged me to become a well-rounded academician and researcher by motivating me to excel in academics and community service while maintaining the work-life balance.

A mentee speaking of Hai Yao

Dickes and Yao will each receive a $1,000 cash award. In addition, a separate $500 cash award will be granted to each recipient’s department to support mentoring activities for doctoral students. The recipients will also be asked to share their mentoring practices with others through the GRAD 360° professional development series in collaboration with the Graduate School.