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10 Receive 2016 Dean’s Awards

2016 Dean's Award winners
List of 2016 winners

For biology professor Sönke Johnsen, a recipient of The Graduate School's 2016 Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring, the most important part of a mentor's job is to fight for students.

"The No. 1 thing a mentor has to be is a tireless advocate," he said. "A mentor has to care about your future and they have to fight for it and they have to believe in it."

To find a role model who embodies that quality, Johnsen needs to look no further than his own Ph.D. adviser.

When he first waded into a career in science after a string of freelance jobs—carpenter, dance teacher, daycare provider for Quakers, just to name a few—Johnsen wasn't sure if he was on the right path. Two days before he was supposed to start his Ph.D. program, he called his adviser to say he wasn't coming.

Johnsen did end up joining the program a year later, but he spent his early graduate school career drawing insects on the lawn and surfing the Web (a new phenomenon at the time), broke his adviser's $50,000 microscope, and flooded the lab—multiple times—when he forgot to turn off the water while filling up the lab's aquarium.

"I was a really bad graduate student for about the first three or so years," he said.

Through it all, though, his adviser not only remained patient, but also stood up for him. When Johnsen joined the program, his adviser worked to get him the fellowship he had forfeited when he backed out the year before. When Johnsen's academic struggles threatened his future in the program, his adviser fought to keep him.

"He definitely took me on potential and took me on his vision of what I would become," Johnsen said. "It was not something I saw in myself."

Johnsen's adviser turned out to be right. Johnsen eventually found his footing as a graduate student and built a successful research career. He has also become a terrific mentor in his own right, as evident in the praise from his current and former students in the support letters for his Dean's Award nomination.

"He had this little image in his mind of what I could be and believed in that and moved me in that direction," Johnsen said of his adviser. "He's very much been a role model for how I approach graduate mentoring now. Without him, I can't imagine I would ever be where I am."

Johnsen is one of 10 recipients for this year's Dean's Awards, which recognize faculty, students, and graduate programs for outstanding efforts in mentoring, teaching, and creating inclusive environments. The recipients were honored in a ceremony on March 30 at the Fitzpatrick Center (see photos from the reception).


Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Each faculty award winner receives a $3,000 prize, while each student recipient gets $2,000.


Katherine J. Franz

Alexander F. Hehmeyer Professor of Chemistry

Sönke Johnsen

Professor of Biology

James Moody

Robert O. Keohane Professor of Sociology

Michael C. Reed

Professor and Bass Fellow, Mathematics


Ph.D. Students

Brittany N. Davis

Biomedical Engineering
Faculty Adviser: George A. Truskey

​Dalmacio Dennis Flores III

Faculty Adviser: Julie Barroso

C. Wyatt Shields IV

Biomedical Engineering
Faculty Adviser: Gabriel Lopez


Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching

Each winner receives $2,000. This award is for Ph.D. students only.

​Heather Heenehan

Marine Science and Conservation
Faculty Adviser: David Johnston

Steffen Kaupp

German Studies
Faculty Adviser: Priscilla Layne


Dean’s Award for Inclusive Excellence in Graduate Education

Each winning department or program receives $5,000 to be used at its discretion.


Duke Research Triangle Materials Research, Science, and Engineering Center

Director: Stefan Zauscher
Executive Director: Miquella Chavez