Magnificent Mentors: Faculty Recognized for Remarkable Dedication to Student Success

As mentors, faculty share their experiences and expertise to help students develop the confidence and skills necessary to achieve their academic, career, and personal goals. For three faculty members in the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, mentorship is as strong a calling as teaching and conducting impactful research.

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Encouraging and Guiding Professional Growth

“An invaluable source of guidance in my life.” That’s how Lauren Simpson (BS ’13), a staff biologist at ECORP Consulting, Inc., describes Bill Hoese, professor of Biological Science and director of the Southern California Ecosystems Research Program (SCERP).

As a community college transfer student, Simpson says she struggled to find her place as a biology major at Cal State Fullerton.

“By helping me gain experiences that allowed me to be accepted into SCERP, Professor Hoese gave me a sense of belonging and provided a home with a group of like-minded people that I had never before experienced,” she says.

Shortly before graduation, Simpson says she expressed to Hoese some serious doubts about the direction of her career after graduation.

“He reassured me of my capabilities and helped me to come up with a plan to develop a strong resume and begin searching for biologist positions. His encouragement and guidance helped me to land an interview with an environmental consulting firm, which after graduation turned into a full-time position,” she says. “I am proud to say that I have been working in environmental consulting for more than eight years now and have experienced great professional success and personal growth.”

With the field skills that she gained in SCERP and her biological science courses, Simpson says she came in at a higher skill level than other recent graduates pursuing the same position. She considers Hoese a “lifelong friend” and sees him at least once per year on the Cal State Fullerton Ornithology alumni trip, “which is a whole other testament to Professor Hoese’s gift of bringing people together,” Simpson says.

In April, Hoese was selected as the university’s 2021 Outstanding Professor, honored for his focus on developing high-impact practices for students, involving them in all aspects of innovative field and lab research, and mentoring them throughout their academic careers.

“I learn so much from my students every single day. I really the love work I do, but it’s those interactions with students that make it special,” Hoese says. “To provide opportunities for students to conduct their own individual research is so special, and my department, college, and university make it possible for me to do that. I want students to be really engaged in that learning process, so I try to provide opportunities in all of my classes as well as SCERP. Getting students out of the classroom and into the environment exposes them to things they may not otherwise see, and then their natural curiosity bursts forth.”

Luke Blacquiere (MS ’13), an assistant professor at Allan Hancock College, wrote a letter of support for his former advisor’s award nomination. In it, he notes that if he has been able to help others accomplish their goals with his pedagogy, “it is by standing on the shoulders of giants like Bill Hoese.”

Blacquiere says he considers the moment during his thesis research when Hoese told him they were co-investigators and “asked me to stop deferring to him with respect to the ideas, direction, and writing of the manuscript” was “the culmination of my education at Cal State Fullerton.”

“This is when Bill let me know all of the scaffolding had been removed and he had confidence in my knowledge and skills,” Blacquiere says.

Hoese with a group of students
William "Bill" Hoese, professor of biological science

Equipping Students With Skills and Confidence

One of Hoese’s “fantastic faculty collaborators,” Danielle Zacherl, professor of biological science – who nominated Hoese for the highest faculty honor – also received a prestigious award last spring – the Carol Barnes Excellence in Teaching Award.

One of her former undergraduate students, Thomas Parker (BS ’14), now an associate environmental scientist in Reuse and Compliance with Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts, says his mentor “helped to cultivate the scientific inquiry and rigor that helped me grow into the scientist I am today.”

“I want my students to leave my class empowered to be creative scientists, confident in doing their own original research.”
Danielle Zacherl, professor of biological science

“Through her tireless efforts, both in the classroom and in the lab, Professor Zacherl supported all her students in developing key skills for academic and professional growth, including critical thinking, primary research analysis, and perhaps most importantly, written and verbal communication,” Parker says. “As an undergraduate in her lab, I was consistently mistaken for a graduate student in professional and research settings due to the level of confidence she imparted and the independent work she trusted her students with.”

He says Zacherl’s personal connection to students “inspired us to pursue scientific careers, instilled a sense of wonder about scientific inquiry, and created a lifelong passion for science that I will take with me forever.”

Zacherl considers her award a huge honor and a validation of the efforts she tries to put into her students’ experiences. Surprisingly, Zacherl didn’t always dream of teaching. As an undergraduate, she was sure that research would be a big part of her career but that she “had no aptitude or interest in teaching,” she says with a laugh. That all changed when she began teaching high school and middle school to “pay the bills” and discovered she loved it. Zacherl taught for five years before deciding to go to graduate school so she could offer more authentic research experiences to her students.

“I felt I needed to be a real scientist myself in order to develop those experiences,” she says. “I want my students to leave my class empowered to be creative scientists, confident in doing their own original research. I weave my original research into upper-level courses and engage students in field and lab research. These days, I’m really focused on oyster ecology, working with graduate and undergraduate students to build a long-term data set on native and non-indigenous species.”

Zacherl is known for using a “fishbowl” approach in her classes, something she said she tweaked based on educational techniques she found online and in the primary literature. Its purpose is to regularly involve students in the classroom beyond the few that regularly speak up. She randomly draws five students’ names, and these students sit in the “fishbowl” and discuss their papers as a group and then share their ideas with the class. This tactic both sets expectations for their active participation in the class and welcomes their insights as equally valuable to the discussion.

Danielle Zacherl, professor of biological science

Sharing a Love of Science

This year’s recipient of the L. Donald Shields Excellence in Scholarship and Creativity Award was María Soledad Ramírez, associate professor of biological science. Ramírez’s active and groundbreaking antibiotic-resistance research program involves undergraduate and graduate students at every step.

Sareda Schramm (MS ’17), a doctoral candidate in biological sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, says the mentorship she received from Ramírez extends far beyond just education and research.

“Initially, I met with Professor Ramírez because I wanted to learn about her research. By the time I walked out of her office, I had joined her lab,” Schramm says. “From that moment, I can honestly say my life was forever changed. Professor Ramírez gave me more opportunities to advance my career in one year than I had in my entire college experience.”

Schramm says because of Ramírez’s mentorship, she is a doctoral student today, and that “it is because of her that so many of us fall in love with science.”

“It is also because of her never-ending mentorship that I still call her with questions, and I know she will always be there for me,” she says.

Ramírez says she’s passionate about teaching and her work with pathogenic bacteria, an area of study where are always new avenues to explore.

“I’m so proud that in the last six years, since I moved from Argentina, I’ve been able to build a research lab with my students. I think if you’re involved in teaching and research, you naturally want to share your knowledge and give students opportunities to try out their own skills and have experiences that help them understand what they are doing,” Ramírez says.

“When you see your current students succeed and receive messages from former students about how what they learned in your lab or during their experience co-authoring a paper helped them respond to a challenge in their career or achieve success, that’s very rewarding.”

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Meet antibiotic-resistance researcher María Soledad Ramírez, associate professor of biological science, who focuses on the dissemination and evolution of deadly bacterial pathogens.

Instructor and student working in a lab

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