Mark Wilson with student

Mark Wilson, the Lewis M. and Marian Senter Nixon Professor of Natural Sciences and Geology at The College of Wooster, shown here with junior geology major Sarah McGrath, has been chosen to receive the Council on Undergraduate Research-Geoscience Division's prestigious Undergraduate Research Mentor Award.


Mark Wilson Receives National Award for Excellence in Mentored Research

College of Wooster professor of geology to be recognized at Council on Undergraduate Research meeting

20 October, 2015 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio – As a former student and a longtime faculty member at The College of Wooster, Mark Wilson has a unique perspective on the intrinsic value of mentored undergraduate research. He completed his Independent Study (I.S.) project (Wooster’s nationally acclaimed senior capstone experience) as a geology major in 1978, and since joining the faculty in 1981, he has advised scores of students as they navigated their own research projects.  

Next month, the highly regarded scientist will be honored for his commitment to and advocacy for such research endeavors when he receives the Council on Undergraduate Research-Geoscience Division’s prestigious Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. The honor acknowledges Wilson’s longstanding excellence in undergraduate research mentoring and his extraordinary investment in providing original experiences to undergraduate students on campus and around the world.

 “It is with great pleasure that we recognize Dr. Wilson for his longstanding excellence in creative undergraduate research mentoring,” said Laura Guertin, professor of earth science at Penn State Brandywine and co-chair of the mentoring award committee. “His investment in providing original research experiences to undergraduate students and assisting them in seeing [their projects] through to completion with conference presentations and publications is exemplary. Not only is his impact felt directly by the students he mentors, but his vision has also shaped undergraduate research across Wooster’s campus and beyond.”

The Undergraduate Research Mentor Award recognizes the amount of time a faculty member devotes to each student, not just communicating knowledge, principles, and methods of research, but also conveying what the life of a scientist is like and the process of doing science.

“I am grateful,” said Wilson, the Lewis M. and Marian Senter Nixon Professor of Natural Sciences and Geology at Wooster. “I have the best colleagues ever, and so many wonderful students.” 

As for the value of undergraduate research in general and Independent Study in particular, Wilson says that it gives students confidence by enabling them to take on a significant project and see it through to completion. “Students become more independent, critical thinkers with I.S.,” he said. “They learn from a community of scientists — past and present — and then join that community. It’s not just the scientific results; it’s the process itself. We set high expectations for our students, and I love seeing the difference undergraduate research makes in them.”

Wilson has been praised by colleagues, students, and former students who describe him as an exemplar in mentoring undergraduate researchers — going beyond the research process by listening to their ideas, giving advice about career pathways and graduate school, working on behalf of the interests of students as an advocate, and being accessible, approachable, and patient.

Greg Wiles, professor of geology at Wooster, noted Wilson’s passion for geology as well as his expertise in mentoring students and faculty, and his leadership in the classroom. “Mark is one of the nation’s top teacher/scholars, and is deserving of this award,” said Wiles. “He has involved hundreds of undergraduate students in paleontological research, many of whom have gone on to do the same for others in academics, museums, and industry. 

 “Mark’s sense of discovery in the field, laboratory, and classroom has inspired and motivated students and colleagues to pursue paleontological research,” added Wiles. “He routinely guides students on research that includes fieldwork done over college breaks and summers, locally, nationally, and internationally. Prior to and after the fieldwork comes the teaching of the laboratory methods, the writing of the thesis, presentation of results at a professional meeting, and publication. Students who experience his guidance during this process understand what it takes to see a project through from start to finish, which prepares them for the next level of [their] education or professional life.”

Meagen Pollock, associate professor of geology at Wooster, said Wilson’s record of mentoring is unmatched. “Mark has secured external funding for his students' research, supporting their work in locations across the globe, including Cyprus, Israel, Estonia, and the Bahamas,” said Pollock. “Many recent students have enrolled at Wooster specifically to do paleontological research with him. When Mark's students talk about their experiences, they speak of his enthusiasm and passion, his genuine interest in their well being, and his wisdom and guidance that extends well beyond graduation. In short, Mark embodies the best of undergraduate research.”

Shelley Judge, also an associate professor of geology at Wooster, described Wilson as “a fantastic scientist who loves research with projects and colleagues that span the globe,” but added that his research isn’t solely about him. “He focuses his energies and talents in this area directly toward the improvement of his students as thoughtful undergraduate scholars,” she said. “He teaches them how to become good scientists and contributors to the broader community through careful mentoring that is tailored to both the strengths and weaknesses of each student. Of equal importance is his focus on bringing his superb scholarship into the classroom, so that his research informs his teaching and mentoring of our undergraduate students. He cares deeply about the quality of the geology majors that we produce at Wooster, and [he] persists in trying to make [us] one of the best undergraduate geology departments in the nation.”

Wilson’s current and former students are similarly effusive in their praise. "To say that Mark Wilson had an impact my life is an understatement,” said Lisa Park Boush, a 1988 Wooster graduate. “He is the reason that I am a paleobiologist and a key reason for my success. As a teacher and mentor, he is beyond par. He is a prolific researcher and his online postings, ‘Fossil of the Week,’ and Wooster blog continue to inspire and provoke us all. I congratulate him on this prestigious award.”

Steve Dornbos, a 1997 Wooster graduate, said, "Dr. Wilson is, quite simply, the best teacher and mentor that I have been exposed to throughout my academic career. It was his positive influence on me during my time at Wooster that helped me find my calling as a paleontologist. His mentorship of me continues to this very day."

Elyssa Krivicich, a 2009 Wooster graduate, said Wilson was “a great mentor while [I was] at Wooster and even beyond. He helped me search for the perfect graduate school and has encouraged me in my desire to be a high school teacher. He cares not just about his research, though he's top notch at that; he cares about teaching students how to evaluate current events and be a well-rounded citizen.”

Mae Kemsley, a senior geology major, says that Wilson has been a wonderful adviser and mentor. “He is very meticulous in his studies, which pushes us to produce our best work,” she said. “When we collected our data for our Independent Study, he helped us to familiarize ourselves with not only the geologic history but also cultural history of England.” 

Wilson’s enthusiasm for research never waivers, and he insists that it never will. “It’s a continual joy,” he said. “There’s always something new to discover, and with students you have that many more eyes, that many more insights. I love doing research with my students as colleagues.” 

As for the institution's steadfast commitment to undergraduate research through Independent Study, Wilson says that it is an essential component of a Wooster education. “Our entire curriculum is tied to this capstone experience,” he said. “It’s not just an opportunity; it's an integral part of what we do.”

The award will be formally presented at the national Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting in Baltimore, during the NAGT/GSA Geoscience Education Division Luncheon and Awards Program on Nov. 3.

Listen to the audio interview here.