Eileen Anderson-Fye hopped up from a discussion with her graduate students to find an answer to their question in her email. When she opened her inbox, she read the subject line of a new message aloud: “Diekhoff Award–Congratulations.” Immediately, the students started cheering, until she opened the email—she was not one of the two names listed.
“Oh, maybe I didn’t win,” she recalls telling them, as she continued to read about the faculty members who had been honored.
“Oh wait, yes I did!” she exclaimed as she read further, reaching the information about the mentoring award winners. Then, the cheering resumed.
Minus the minor hiccup, it marked an ideal way for Anderson-Fye, an assistant professor of anthropology, to find out she won the John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Student Mentoring. “It was fun because all of the students were there and they cheered,” she said. “It was perfect to find out with them.”
Anderson-Fye, along with her fellow award winners, will be honored at the Graduate Awards Ceremony today from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Wolstein Research Building. Winners will be profiled throughout the week in The Daily, so watch the newsletter and thedaily.case.edu to find out who the other winners are.
Now in her fourth year at Case Western Reserve, Anderson-Fye is a primary mentor for seven doctoral students. She describes her approach as “scaffolding the whole scholar,” or understanding and supporting each individual’s academic and personal growth.
“This isn’t a cohort of brains I’m dealing with—these are whole people who live in their whole lives,” she noted. “In my experience, they are going to be better, more productive scholars if they take seriously that this [academic world] is part of their life—a major part—but that it’s not their entire life.”
Anderson-Fye makes sure to stress this point with her mentees. A mother of three, she serves as a role model to her students, proving it’s possible to balance a personal life and a professional life and providing them with the advice they need to succeed.
Through a mix of constructive criticism, persistent challenging and endless support, she has developed a mentoring approach that students appreciate.
“She has sat with me, guided me and buoyed me as I’ve questioned my present and worried over my future,” one of her nominators wrote. “She knows how to challenge gently, but also push with more force when needed.”
Said another: “She is receptive, available when you need her, helpful, honest, encouraging, provides constructive criticism and, most importantly, she cares about her students. She wants us to do the best we can and to achieve our goals. When you work with Dr. Anderson-Fye, you feel good and excited about what you are doing and your academic and professional future.”
She credits her mentoring style to two influencing factors: her research and her own mentor in graduate school.
Anderson-Fye’s studies, in which 16 of her undergraduate and graduate students are involved, centers on the well-being of adolescents in contexts of socio-cultural change. She tackles topics such as the use and management of psychiatric medication on college campuses and the stigma of obesity across cultures.
By exploring the well-being of individuals, she is able to better connect with and understand her students’ needs, which means she can be hands-on if necessary, or she can take a more hands-off approach—which is how her college adviser mentored her. A first-generation college student, Anderson-Fye attended Brown University for her undergraduate degree and earned her doctorate at Harvard University, where her mentor pushed her to work independently.
“I gained an extraordinary amount of independence and confidence by pursuing what fascinated me and doing things on my own, and I understand the value of that,” she said. “I also reflected upon the places where it is helpful to have someone reach out and lend a guiding hand.”
Anderson-Fye advises students where they need it most, in areas such as national networking or staying on track in their research and career goals. When it comes to their own research questions and ideas, she encourages them to think and test for themselves.
“I think the way I can help scaffold their development as whole scholars is to be very direct on what parts of their work are going really well and are really innovative,” she said, “but when they run into a problem or if they’re making choices that are not conducive to reaching their final goals, I’m going to call them out on it.”
Her mentoring style has not only garnered her recognition here on campus; she also was named a national mentor for the Society for Psychological Anthropology. At the organization’s recent national meeting, students applied to meet with her for mentoring at the organization’s annual meetings.
Anderson-Fye holds a position in the Center for Culture and Health in the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA as assistant research anthropologist. Her work has been funded by the Spencer Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Foundation for Psychocultural Research, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies and the CWRU Presidential Research Initiative.
The Diekhoff Award was created in 1978 to recognize full-time faculty members who make exemplary contributions to the education and development of graduate students at Case Western Reserve University. The award was created in honor of John Diekhoff, who served at the university from 1956 to 1970 in roles such as professor of English, chair of the Department of English, dean of Cleveland College, acting dean of the School of Graduate Studies and vice provost of the university.
Initially, the award recognized two faculty members with strong graduate teaching skills; in 2009, the School of Graduate Studies expanded the award to honor faculty members who excelled in mentoring.
A committee of the Graduate Student Senate conducts the entire process, from nomination to the selection of the winners. Committee members were Chair Ashley Gan, Mark Barnes, Yotam Blech-Hermoni, Greg Chung, Timothy Franke, Jingle Jiang, Brad Lang, Michelle Meredith, Kelsey Potter, Ben Saliwanchik, Joe Volzer and Brian Werry.
Graduate students nominated nearly 30 faculty members for the Diekhoff Award. Stay tuned to The Daily for a full list of nominees and winners.