Youra Moeun, a doctoral candidate in chemical engineering, was chosen Nov. 30 to receive the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE)’s Women in Chemical Engineering Mentorship Excellence Award, Graduate/Postdoctoral.
Though hundreds are nominated for the award, AIChE’s Women’s Initiatives Committee bestows the Mentorship Excellence Award to one recipient in each of three categories – Industry and National Labs, Academia (Faculty), and Graduate/Postdoctoral. The award’s website notes it is given to recognize women who “have contributed to the development of the next generation of chemical engineers through outstanding mentoring.”
Moeun, who hopes to receive her doctorate in December 2023, works in the laboratory of Srivatsan Kidambi. Her research focuses on liver diseases, using novel engineering stiffness platforms. As a doctoral student, Moeun works with undergraduate and graduate students on her research projects and has experience teaching undergraduate students, research experienced undergrad (REU) students from a few universities, and a high school student from Lincoln.
As an undergraduate at Montana State University, Moeun was a student mentor for international undergrad students, she tutored student-athletes, and she had involved in mentoring Native American students in a STEM program.
How did mentoring become important to you?
Moeun: Being in the Ph.D. program, part of me wishes that I'd had somebody throughout my undergraduate years to help me, to tell me that, “no, it’s OK, it takes time to get there or just to learn and to be patient with myself” instead of me assuming that I’m supposed to be a little lost and confused. I decided that I can’t be the only one who’s going through this and that I’m going to be that person for a student who might need me. I will take my time to do that and I will listen to them. I should be able to tell a freshman, sophomore or junior what I know so that they don’t have to go through some of the same things.
You are working in the lab with Dr. Kidambi. How has he inspired your mentorship journey?
Moeun: He encourages us (graduate students) to work with undergraduates. That's one thing I really appreciate. Something he said and I still remember is that the best way to learn, actually, is to teach, even if you don’t know everything. Like when I teach a student with an experiment, before we do anything, I would ask them to tell me what they know and then what they don’t know, and then inform them that's OK. I'm going to explain things and challenge them, but with kindness. I'm a little sensitive myself, so I always try my best to use certain words and a certain behavior in a way that they (students) don't feel scared to ask questions or give opinions. That's important in research because I know we’re not going to know everything, and that's why we do the research. You're not going to know everything, and I also know my bosses are not going to know everything. But how you approach the problems is an important skill.
What does it mean to you that you were chosen for this award?
Moeun: I'm just hoping to inspire people to also take this role as well, to take their time and help someone else. As a graduate student, you don't have very much time and to be able to sit with an undergrad, but taking the time to sit with them, talk to them, teach them, mentor them will help them grow and help you grow, and it will help your experiments in the long run as well. That is one thing, I hope to encourage more graduate students to get involved in mentorship and help other people in need.
Are you mentoring people who are part of your research team?
Moeun: Mainly just one undergraduate student now, but I have been a mentor to several other students throughout the year. I take mentorship seriously because I'm a first-generation college student and my younger sister just finished her undergrad in industrial engineering. Sometimes I feel I have to be more of a role model to her in that way, and that impacts how I talk to students, give them advice, and provide suggestions for my path, just like how I have with my sister.
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