Anne Brown has been named a recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Undegraduate Research Mentor Award.

“Mentorship is one of the most important, if not the most important, aspect of what I do,” Brown said. “It has the ability to propagate and have long-lasting, long-reaching effects. I have had and currently have exceptional mentors and I challenge myself to give back in the same way of which I have benefited. Hopefully, I am disseminating that cycle of mentorship further.”  

Brown, an assistant professor in biochemistry, science informatics consultant, and health analytics coordinator in the Research, Learning, and Informatics Department of Virginia Tech's University Libraries, has worked to revolutionize mentorship for the university's undergraduate research community and has exemplified Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) through her guidance.

Keri Swaby, director for Undergraduate Research, applauds Brown and the impact her mentorship has had on undergraduate researchers.

“Students were asked to nominate one Virginia Tech faculty or graduate student research mentor from any discipline for the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award," said Swaby. "Last year, we received 21 nominations, 16 of which were for faculty. Of those 16, an unprecedented five were for Anne Brown, in recognition of her biochemistry mentoring. This prestigious award reflects her breadth of knowledge and authentic attentiveness to providing an enriched experience for students in research.”

Brown’s lab group utilizes computational biology and informatics techniques, with a research agenda focused on molecular dynamics simulations and in silico drug discovery, in an effort to understand protein structure-function relationships involved in neurodegenerative disease. She has developed a comprehensive, accountable, and hierarchical undergraduate research mentoring system, such that she can have more than 30 students active in her group at one time. Brown's extensive collaborations with undergraduates have resulted in numerous publications and presentations at professional conferences.  

“[Brown] played such a major role in my time in undergrad with pursuing research and influenced my desire to enter the field of medicine,” said Jared Okada, a Virginia Tech Systems Biology and Clinical Neuroscience alumnus and a current first-year student at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. “She always took time and effort to know her students and guide them with her wisdom and experience.” Okada said Brown’s ongoing support and encouragement during his collegiate career as an undergrad is a clear example of her genuine enthusiasm for student growth.

"That is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a faculty mentor," Brown said. “The best experience is when students reach out after they have graduated and let me know about their progress and life. Mentoring never really stops, so when I hear about how well students are doing, it really is rewarding.”

Okada also explained how much Brown has made a positive impact on his future career endeavours.

“Throughout the process of considering medical school, applying and finally getting in, Dr. Brown played a pivotal role in helping me seriously think through the decisions that I have made for my future,” said Okada. “She counseled me throughout my premed years on things that I needed to consider and was consistently meeting with me to help me stay on track for my goals. I know that the skills she taught us in the lab and the kind of leadership she set will be incredible assets for me and everyone else at Bevan Brown Labs.”

In addition to the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award, passion and determination in Brown's work has earned her the national 2020 Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Biology Division Faculty Mentor Award. Both of these awards recognize the incredible efforts of faculty and staff who provide unparalleled guidance and support to undergraduate researchers.

“I am fortunate to have high-calibur students join and work in my research group," Brown said. "The positive influence they say I am having on them is most meaningful.”

Brown offers a piece of advice to other faculty and staff who seek to serve as a mentor to students.

“You cannot ‘blanket mentor,' students," she said. "Each student needs an individualized approach to what works best for their particular mentoring relationship. Starting those conversations early and knowing that while it is a time investment, it benefits both the mentee and the mentor in the long run, is the best way to approach it. I think I am still learning and continually trying to be a better mentor by following channels, threads and scholarship on mentoring so I can grow and improve my skills for my mentees.”

Recognizing the vital role mentors play in the undergraduate research experience, the Office of Undergraduate Research hosts an annual Mentoring Undergraduates Workshop that is open to faculty, post doctoral fellows, and graduate students, which helps to guide faculty members by providing a comprehensive approach to mentoring students.

"From the faculty perspective, there have been fantastic speakers at these workshops who have engaged us in our thought process and approach to mentoring, " Brown said.

— Written by Abigail Mercatoris-Morrison

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