What is a Faculty Mentor?

1377714413_osanloo_azadeh_072413.jpegEducation Professor Azadeh Osanloo meets with a student.  Photo: Darren Phillips.








A faculty mentor is an NMSU professor who advises you on your project, gives feedback, and directs you to future opportunities in your field. Any faculty member can be an undergraduate mentor. As you consider who to ask to mentor you, consider these factors:

  • Your mentor should have some experience or knowledge about the subject of your project
  • Your mentor should help you track and monitor your progress
  • Faculty who have seen your academic work (for example, in classes) will be most likely to agree to mentor you.

As we note elsewhere, this is your project or research experience. Your mentor is a resource, but they will also be relying on you to call upon your own expertise, skills, and initiative. In certain circumstances, you may be collaborating with them closely on related research. In others, you may be working independently and reporting back in regular meetings for feedback and guidance.

You are developing your own professional identity in this working relationship, and the self-motivation and resourcefulness you demonstrate will help them see you as a future colleague. From your first meeting with your faculty mentor to the last, arrive prepared to talk about the work you are doing and ask questions you may have. Faculty mentors are a wealth of information and experience, and they are eager to help you achieve your goals.

Finding a Faculty Mentor

NMSU has a lot of faculty--more than 800, in fact. You have a lot of options to choose from. Faculty mentors love working with undergraduate students and go above and beyond to help you succeed, often in their own busy research time. It is important to remember that this is a major commitment for faculty, so approaching them with a topic you have already put a lot of thought into, having done some pre-planning, will make it easier for them to envision your success and agree to take you on.  Many research mentors are affiliated with NMSU Research Programs, some of which will even place you in a project in your area of interest.

To get a quick view of researchers and creative scholars who work on questions or in media that interest you, find the "faculty" or "people" page on your department's website.  Scan the areas of expertise listed for your faculty members, looking for possible areas of overlap.  Consider emailing a faculty member with related interests to ask whether they know of opportunities for you to pursue a project or work in a lab.

Attending CURCA events is a great way to connect with faculty mentors seeking undergraduate mentees:

CURCA Workshops: these are held throughout the year on topics related to undergraduate research, including an Introduction to Research, How to Find and Work a Faculty Mentor, and many skills-specific workshops.
Research and Creativity Open House: Many NMSU faculty open their labs, studios, and other scholarly work spaces to undergraduates for the fall Research and Creativity Open House. 
Research Programs and Fellowships Night: Representatives from NMSU research programs with mentor networks are eager to meet you and answer your questions at our early spring Research Programs and Fellowships Night. 
URCAS: The Undergraduate Research and Creative Arts Symposium in April features poster sessions and talks by students engaged in advanced creative and research endeavors. This includes students assisting and collaborating on faculty-led projects as well as students engaged in independent student research with the advice of a faculty mentor.  Note who has mentored these projects and get in touch--they may well be in the audience with you.  Talk to students about their experiences working with faculty and how they made contact.

Also make sure to join us in Corbett and around town for events during Research and Creativity Week.  This campus-wide celebration of faculty and student endeavors, typically held in February, features many faculty projects that incorporate undergraduate students. 

Note that there are many types of faculty at NMSU, some of whom will be more involved in research, others more involved in teaching.  Some key terms to know:

  • Assistant Professor: full-time, tenure-track faculty who teach and research
  • Associate Professor: full-time, tenured faculty who teach and research
  • Professor: full-time, tenured faculty who teach and research
  • Research Professor: full-time tenured faculty who research but may not teach
  • Emeritus Professor: retired professor who may teach occasionally and continue to do research
  • Postdoctoral Fellow: researcher with PhD in hand and university affiliation
  • College Assistant/Associate/Professor: non-tenure track instructor who typically specializes in teaching and may also research
  • Visiting Professor: short-term appointed faculty who may research and/or teach
  • Adjunct Instructor, Lecturer: typically a specialist in teaching
  • Graduate Assistant, Research Assistant: typically a Master's or PhD student who may be working with a faculty on a research or teaching project



Professor Ivette Guzman extracts nutrients from Sumac Berries and dried chile in her Plant Sciences lab. Photo: Josh Bachman.



Below are just a few of the NMSU faculty who have mentored undergraduate research and creative projects presented at URCAS. The list is not exhaustive by any means, so don't worry if you don't see anyone in your field. You can ask any faculty member if they would be willing to mentor you on your project.


Recent URCAS & RCW Mentors

Abdessattar Abdelkefi (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering)

Christopher Aiken (Kinesiology)

Amanda Ashley (Chemistry & Biochemistry)

Ryan Ashley (Animal and Range Sciences, endocrinology)

Christopher Baker (Chemistry)

Catie Brewer (Chemical Engineering)

Colleen Caldwell (Fish, Aquatic Ecology)

Phame Camarena (Sociology, Family and Consumer Sciences)

Rebecca Campbell (Education)

Maria Castillo (Immunology)

Lon Chaffin (Music Composition)

Kevin Cheung (Public Health, Cancer Research)

Hilda Cecilia Contreras Aguirre (Educational Leadership, TPAL)

Douglas Cortes (Civil Engineering)

Christopher Cramer (Crop Genetics)

Jennifer Curtiss (Biology & Genetics)

Ehsan Dehgan-Niri (Structural Engineering)

Ivan de la Rosa (Social Work)

Dennis Daily (Library, Amador Papers)

David Dubois (Climatology)

Judith Flores Carmona (Borderlands & Ethnic Studies)

Marlene Fraune (Social Robotics, Psychology)

Paul Furth (Engineering Technology)

Motoko Furuhashi (Art)


Luis Rodolfo Garcia Carrillo (Electrical Engineering & Robotics)

Andreas Gross (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering)

Ivette Guzman (Plant and Environmental Sciences)

Mahdi Haghshenas-Jaryani (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering)

Kathryn Hanley (Virology)

Neil Harvey (Government)

Sabine Hirschauer (Government)

Omar Holguin (Water Resources)

Jessica Houston (Chemical Engineering)

Kevin Houston (Chemistry)

Sang-Rok Lee (Exercise Physiology)

Shelley Lusetti (Chemistry)

Nancy Macmillan (Geology)

Michael Mapp (Music and Bands)

Sergio Martinez (Family and Consumer Sciences)

Tracey Miller-Tomlinson (English & Drama)

Martha Mitchell (Chemical & Materials Engineering)

Shannon Norris (Agricultural Leadership & Communications)

Kathryn Olszowy (Biomedical Anthropology)

Teri Orr (Biology, Bat Lab)

Young Park (Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering)

Nicole Pietrasiak (Soil Sciences, PES)

Adriana Romero-Olivares (Biology)

Soum Sanogo (Entomology, PPWS)

Sergio Soto (Animal Science)

Julie Steinkopk (Sociology)

Marat Talipov (Chemistry)

Mary Alice Scott (Medical Anthropology)

Elba Serrano (Neuroscience)

Charles Shuster (Biology)

Sarah Thomson (Museum of Natural History and Science)

Patrick Traino (Applied Statistics)

April Ulery (Plant and Environmental Sciences)

Graciela Unguez (Biology, muscle development)

Lee Uranga (Chemistry)

Delia Valles-Rosales (Industrial Engineering)

Timothy Wright (Biology, Avian Behavior)

Stefan Zollner (Experimental Physics)

Jiannong Xu (Biology)

Meng Zhou (Chemical Engineering, Energy Storage)












Reaching Out to Faculty

First Contact

Reaching out to a faculty member can be intimidating, but remember that they are people who share your interests and passions and once stood in your shoes. Before your first contact, sketch out some of your short-term and long-term goals: what do you hope to get out of this experience, and how might it be a step toward your future plans? If you are proposing an independent project, do some preliminary research on it in advance and be ready to describe your topic in a few sentences.

You may meet potential faculty mentors as your instructors in courses, at colloquia or other department meetings, through NMSU research programs like AMP, MARC, and PACR, and through campus events like the Undergraduate Research and Creative Arts Symposium and Research and Creativity After Hours (see the CURCA Events page for more on these). You may learn of opportunities to work with faculty as a member of student groups in your major.  Or you may find a good fit by looking at faculty listings on your department website. However you learn about a potential mentor, introduce yourself and ask how you can get more involved in scholarly activity.  The faculty member's office hours can be a great time to start this conversation. If you haven't seen their office hours posted in the halls, ask in the main office of your department where and when they hold office hours. Drop in! This is what office hours are for. If this is terrifying to you, try emailing first. But nothing beats saying hello in person.

Coming soon will be a page with some dedicated faculty mentors who have worked with undergraduate students as researchers and creators in the past.  Watch this space!

Preparing for a Meeting

Meetings will vary depending on the nature of your project and mentoring agreement, but some advice applies across the board. 

  • Prepare a few talking points for every meeting with your faculty mentor. 
  • Be ready to summarize your work since last you met and make a note of issues that have arisen.  For example, programs with glitches you haven't figure out, equipment that won't work, dead ends in your research, blocks in your writing.
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions.
  • Review your timeline with your mentor and set goals for your upcoming work. 
  • Be clear about when you will next meet or communicate about your progress.

After a Meeting 

Reflect on the conversation and make notes while it is fresh in your mind. As you continue in your work, note issues to bring up in future meetings.  If this was your first meeting, consider sending a short email thanking them for their time and updating them on any steps you have taken at their advice.