Your Colleagues

Three recognized for mentoring graduate students

Concept of mentoring.


Published March 4, 2021


Laina Bay-Cheng, Myung Mi Kim and Jinhui Xu are the recipients of the 2020-21 Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award, given out 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, goes 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.”

Bay-Cheng, professor and associate dean in the School of Social Work, was nominated by Nancy J. Smyth, professor and dean of the School of Social Work. Kim, James H. McNulty Chair and Professor of English, was nominated for the award by her department chair, Rachel Ablow, professor of English. Xu, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, was nominated by his department chair, SUNY Distinguished Professor Chunming Qiao.

Kim 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.

All three of the winners will be recognized at UB’s Celebration of Faculty and Staff Excellence in fall 2021.

headshot of Laina Bay-Cheng.

Laina Bay-Cheng

In her nomination letter, Smyth praised Bay-Cheng for her “drive, commitment, work ethic and passion, all of which contribute to her success as a mentor, teacher and scholar.”

Bay-Cheng served as director of the PhD program from 2012-19, and during her last year in the role, her title was changed to associate dean for doctoral programs to reflect that her role had expanded to include oversight of the PhD program and the new Doctor of Social Work (DSW, a practice doctorate) program, Smyth wrote.

Bay-Cheng is founding director of UB’s Network for Enriched Academic Relationships (NEAR), a university-wide, interdisciplinary network through which graduate students can find mentors on issues beyond coursework, comps and dissertations. NEAR aims to connect students with faculty who have experience navigating obstacles such as systemic bias or personal hardship, or who can be effective allies so that students feel supported and empowered in their own careers.

“By creating NEAR, Laina exponentially expanded graduate student mentoring at UB,” Sandra Flash, associate vice provost for academic affairs, wrote in a supporting letter. “The transdisciplinary design has created critical graduate student support for students who otherwise would not seek mentoring in their home department. Laina has worked tirelessly to coordinate mentor training opportunities and identify ways to make the network more diverse and inclusive. Through her work to support the NEAR mentors, Laina is ensuring that graduate students who utilize NEAR receive excellent guidance and mentorship.”

Bay-Cheng’s former PhD students agree, one calling her “a key part of my success,” and another noting that they would not have landed their current academic position without Bay-Cheng’s support.

Myung Mi Kim.

Myung Mi Kim

“It is all but impossible to encapsulate what Myung has offered to graduate education in the English department in her 18 years at the university,” Ablow wrote in her letter nominating Kim for the award.

Kim, author of six “iconic” collections of innovative poetry, is also the subject of a book written by former students and younger poets titled “Building is a Process / Light is an Element: Essays and Excursions for Myung Mi Kim (2008).”

“[The book] collects a series of reflections on her importance to students and/or younger fellow poets,” Ablow said.

In addition, Kim displayed leadership in integrating the concept of “diversity” long before universities pushed it to be a “crucial aspect of any educational experience,” Ablow wrote. “Myung instantiated the practices of equity and recognition in her pedagogy and mentoring — and at a level, moreover, that still remains in advance of institutional prerogatives.”

In a supporting letter, Alison Fraser, assistant curator of the Poetry Collection, explained how Kim’s seminar, “Twentieth-century American Poetry,” shaped the rest of her PhD career.  

“The seminar has continued to inspire the way I approach scholarship, teaching and curation,” Fraser wrote.

headshot of Jinhui Xu.

Jinhui Xu

In his letter nominating Xu for the award, Qiao emphasized Xu’s dedication to students by highlighting the number he has advised and mentored, noting that to date Xu has supervised the research of 22 PhD students — 18 of whom have already graduated — as well as 28 master’s students.

Xu’s guidance helped his students succeed while at UB and later during their job searches, Qiao said.

“Seven of the graduated PhD students are now in academia,” he wrote, “including professors in some world-renowned universities like University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Science and Technology of China. All others are in leading IT companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Bloomberg Inc.”

Qiao cites one student, now a well-accomplished professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as Xu’s most successful mentoring story. The student was progressing slowly and lacked confidence, but his struggles did not deter Xu.

“Jinhui encouraged me to be ambitious when applying for faculty positions,” the student wrote in a letter supporting Xu’s nomination. “He helped me prepare application materials, as well as provided tons of suggestions on how to interview well. Most faculty members do so with their students — but Jinhui’s involvement was intensive from start to finish. It is no surprise that many students mentored by Jinhui have gone on to successful careers in academia and industry.”