Published February 17, 2020
William Solomon and Jun Zhuang are the recipients of the 2019-20 Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award, presented by the Graduate School to recognize UB faculty for their support and development of graduate students through their mentoring activities.
The award, established in 2012, is given annually to members of the graduate faculty who have demonstrated “truly outstanding and sustained support and development of graduate students from course completion through research and subsequent career placement.”
Solomon, professor in the Department of English, was nominated for the award by Chad Lavin, associate professor and interim department chair. Zhuang, professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, was nominated by his department chair, Victor Paquet, professor of industrial and systems engineering.
Zhuang will be UB’s nominee for the Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award sponsored by the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS). The Marshall award will be presented at NAGS’ annual meeting in April.
Both award winners will be recognized at UB’s Celebration of Faculty and Staff Excellence in fall 2020.
In his letter nominating Zhuang for the award, Paquet called his colleague “an enthusiastic and accomplished graduate student mentor” who “feels strongly about ensuring that he is always available to his students, is enthusiastic about his students’ accomplishments, and is sensitive to and appreciates the different abilities and backgrounds of his graduate students.”
“Zhuang views the ideal adviser-advisee relationship as a lifetime commitment, and enjoys watching his former students mature professionally,” Paquet said. “He often speaks of how wonderful it is to witness a student’s “aha” moment,” he added.
Paquet says Zhuang’s mentorship methods go well beyond the typical “one-on-one” and small group methods of graduate student mentorship that faculty often use. “His methods include comprehensive researcher and educator training through large student team discussion and presentations, cooperative publication efforts, games, conferences and even field trips.”
Zhuang’s mentorship methods “have encouraged the best possible performance from students, assisted students who were unlikely to complete their degree, and have supported superior student research and scholarship,” Paquet wrote.
Another colleague, Ann Bisantz, dean of undergraduate education and professor and former chair of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, noted that Zhuang collaborates with students on his publications, and since joining UB in 2008, “almost every one of his over 100 journal publications and over 200 conference publications are co-authored with students!”
Bisantz adds that Zhuang is committed to his students “as individuals and scholars,” noting that he hosts large groups of international graduate students for holiday meals and supported a graduate student who was directed to return to Turkey for political reasons in completing his doctorate remotely.
Zhuang has long been recognized as an exceptional mentor. He is the recipient of the Office of Student Engagement’s Exemplary Faculty/Staff Mentor Award, the President Emeritus and Mrs. Martin Meyerson Award for Distinguished Teaching and Mentoring, and the Graduate Student Mentor Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he received his PhD and served as a research assistant, instructor, TA and project assistant from 2004 until he joined the UB faculty in 2008.
Zhuang’s research focuses on integrating operations research, big data analysis, game theory and decision analysis to improve mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery for natural and man-made disasters.
He is the recipient of a UB Exceptional Scholar Award — Sustained Achievement, a Koopman Prize from the INFORMS Military Applications Society and a Chauncey Starr Distinguished Young Risk Analyst Award from the Society for Risk Analysis.
In his letter nominating Solomon for the award, Lavin praises him as “one of the most admired and sought-after teachers” in the English department and “an exemplary advisor and mentor.”
He points out that Solomon is well-known in the department for serving on an unusually large number of PhD committees — 25 finished dissertations, with 19 more in progress over eight years — a commitment he called “rather jaw-dropping.”
“There is a reason for this vast amount of advising: Every student in the department whose research area even remotely touches on Bill’s wishes to work with him beyond their coursework, and he almost never declines to help,” Lavin said.
He cited numerous letters submitted by Solomon’s former students in support of his nomination. “In near lockstep, they describe his ‘excellence and generosity,’ an uncanny combination of an ‘encyclopedic’ (a word used more than once) grasp of his field and a ‘humble’ self-presentation,” he wrote.
Lavin notes that what makes Solomon so deserving of this award “is the different kinds of attention that he gives his students — from recommendations and discussions of high theory, to the nuts-and-bolts of paragraph writing and citation, to the more professional willingness to discuss his own successes, failures and struggles.”
Lavin said he was particularly struck by how Solomon’s students said he helps them consider the academic job market’s challenges, “while remaining hopeful about their own work and confident in their own progress.”
“This is an exceptionally difficult task,” he said, “conveying this balance of realism and hopefulness. It is another mark of Bill’s incredible mentoring, which seems always to go beyond the merely academic, treating his students’ professional futures as seriously as he does their scholarly work.”
Reading the letters submitted by colleagues and students in support of Solomon “has made me want to be a better mentor,” Lavin wrote.
A UB faculty member since 2007, Solomon is director of the MA program in the Department of English and also serves as a core faculty member in the Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences.
A specialist in 20th century American literature, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles, book reviews and book chapters, and has been a speaker at numerous conferences and invited lectures.
Solomon is the recipient of a Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.