April 22, 2020

Media Contact: Greg Teachout,, 517.974.0064, Michigan State University

Dr. John Waller, professor in the College of Social Science, and Dr. Gina Leinninger, professor in the College of Natural Science, were honored with the 2020 Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year award for Michigan State University; Keenan Noyes, a research supervisor in Dr. Melanie Cooper’s lab, was honored with the inaugural Undergraduate Research Supervisor Mentor of the Year award. Two awards in the areas of Science, Mathematics, & Engineering and Humanities, Social Science, & Communication Arts are presented annually in recognition of those faculty members who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to mentoring undergraduate researchers; beginning this year, an award is also given to a research supervisor who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to mentoring. Normally, these awards are awarded at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) Award Ceremony; UURAF was canceled this year due to the spread of the novel Coronavirus. These awardees are exemplars of what it means to take ownership of student success.

Dr. Waller is a professor in the History Department and the present director of the Social Science Scholars Program. Dr. Waller’s nominating students praise his “unmatched commitment to undergraduate research,” as well as his “deep and meaningful commitment to his students’ personal and professional lives.” Dr. Waller’s undergraduate nominators expressed appreciation of his open door policy; he is known for working in the classroom adjacent to his office in order to be more accessible to students. He is also known for pushing his students to expand the scope of their work while remaining supportive. “Dr. Waller expertly preserves balance between pushing our limits and cutting slack when it is needed,” according to one mentee. The “infinitely patient” Dr. Waller has mentored nearly 120 students over the last six years, and many will testify he has been instrumental in helping them achieve their ambitious goals: many of Dr. Waller’s students have been admitted to top law schools and hired by Fortune 500 companies.

Dr. Gina Leinninger, a professor in the Department of Physiology in the College of Natural Science, and her team study how neurons in the lateral hypothalamic area (LHA) contribute to energy balance and obesity—a sphere of research with the potential to improve human life. But inside the Leinninger Laboratory, it is her penchant for improving her mentees’ lives that has earned her a Mentor of the Year Award. Says one undergraduate nominator, “‘What can I do for you?’ Dr. Leinninger always asks with a beaming smile on her face as I enter her office. It seems to carry an ineffable force, so much so that it’s therapeutic. She enlivens a dry research-based conversation using humor. And, most importantly, it’s the optimistic spirit that she speaks with so as to infuse you with a ‘you-can-do-it’ attitude.”

Her impact on her mentees is also tangible; an undergrad researcher has this to say about Dr. Leinninger’s stewardship: “I am a co-author of a primary research paper that is being prepared for submission. Throughout this entire process, Gina has pushed me to be an independent scientist, while at the same time has served as a crutch when I need her. As a result, I’ve been able to develop an unadulterated passion and appreciation for the scientific research process over these last two year—all thanks to Gina.”

Keenan Noyes, who is a research supervisor in Dr. Melanie Cooper’s lab in the Department of Chemistry, is the winner of the inaugural Undergraduate Research Supervisor Mentor of the Year award. Noyes is a top-notch scientist and a warm and thoughtful supervisor, according to his nominators: “His continued commitment to my development as both a scientist and an educator has shaped how I as a future high school science teacher hope to have an impact on my students.”

Noyes, who has authored three publications himself, works patiently and tirelessly with undergraduates to develop their research experience in chemistry and teach them about the publishing landscape.

One nominee’s testimonial encapsulates the essence of Noyes’s committed mentorship: “Developing relationships and promoting success for three to four undergraduates while excelling at both his own graduate research and classwork on top of teaching speaks to his caliber as a mentor and scientist. Keenan has aided in my development as a thinker, writer, and presenter.”

The Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year award is completely student-driven, as only undergraduate researchers can submit nominations and the university’s undergraduate Research Ambassadors review and select the finalists.

Michigan State University (MSU)

Michigan State University has been advancing the common good with uncommon will for more than 160 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU pushes the boundaries of discovery and forges enduring partnerships to solve the most pressing global challenges while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.