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2009 Dean’s Award: Joseph O. Sexton

May 12, 2009
Joseph O. Sexton

Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Joseph O. Sexton is a doctoral candidate in the University Program in Ecology. He started his graduate study at Duke after receiving the M.S. degree (magna cum laude) from the Department of Forest Resources at Utah State University and the B.S. degree (cum laude) from the University of Florida in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. Joe's research focus is forest landscape ecology and remote sensing. The consistent refrain from Joe's nominators was his willingness to serve as a resource for his peers—inside and outside his department.

I always felt comfortable approaching Joe and seeking his clarification on a topic or assignment. Perhaps as important as his accessibility was the worth of the information Joe could provide once you had his attention. …Through his accessibility, mastery of the subjects of ecology, statistics, and remote sensing, and his teaching ability, Joe ensured that my fellow students and I developed a solid understanding of the material that underlies the fields of landscape ecology and conservation planning. …Joe coordinated my writing efforts with that of four other co-authors, spread across three different universities. … After many months of collaborative work we produced a manuscript that has recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Forest Ecology and Management.”

He makes sure that we have all the resources necessary to complete our projects and will work with us as long as necessary to make sure we understand the material and fix problems. …He also takes time to help other students with things outside of the projects on which he is collaborating. For example, knowing that many of the MEM students at the Nicholas School specialize in GIS, he regularly sends job opportunities he is aware of out to students via e-mail and even helps with the applications when needed.”

"I was working on a remote sensing project looking at deforestation in Madagascar, and at the time, there was no remote sensing class offered at the school. He was recommended to me by other students as someone who could help me, as remote sensing was his area of expertise in his thesis research. When asked, he agreed to help, however, there were two conditions: one, that I must be willing to learn the proper remote sensing techniques needed for my project and two, that if possible, I be willing to put in the extra time to publish my results. …Now, nearly two years since I first talked to him about working on a project, the paper is in press. Without Joe's expertise, patience, and willingness to mentor, I would not have been able to complete my Master's Project and get it to publication. His role superseded the title of teaching assistant. … I would consider him as one of my core advisors.”

A key to Joe's success as a mentor is his openness to meet his peers where they are intellectually, identify the appropriate resources for them to meet their goals, and, then—with firmness and patience—to help them take their work to the next level.