Headshot of Nicole Crown

Biology’s Nicole Crown honored with 2022 J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring

Headshot of Nicole Crown

Nicole Crown always knew she wanted to be a scientist, but it wasn’t until she became a postdoc that she realized she wanted to be a professor.

“I came home at the end of the day in a really good mood,” she said. “And I realized it was because I spent most of my day in the lab with an undergraduate student. That meant something.”

Working with students is the part of her career that brings Crown the most joy. Now, as an assistant professor of biology, it is her mission to provide the tools, experiences and mentorship support for them to become successful scientists. 

During the university’s commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 15, Crown will receive the J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring.

Tools for mentoring success

With nearly 200 undergraduates in her courses each year, Crown treats every interaction with a student as a mentoring opportunity, relying heavily on active listening to build connections and draw on her own experiences to empathize with students. From there, she can distinguish who might need encouraging words, and those who need something different. Truly understanding what they are saying and getting to know them gives her the ability to take a more individualized approach to mentoring. 

“I’m never going to make an assumption about a student,” she said. “I will always make sure that I understand what’s going on in their life; I can do that by asking questions and listening really carefully.”

Beyond the grades

One lesson Crown focuses on with her students is moving their sense of self-worth internally, encouraging them to value themselves for who they are and not for their grades or awards. 

The advice she shares stems directly from her time in graduate school. “At some point, I realized I’m worthy just because I exist and I deserve good things just because I exist, not because of my grades,” she said. “ I wish I had realized that earlier in life, so I try to share my story with people.”

Through tears, Crown called receiving the Jackson Award for her mentoring efforts, “the biggest honor I’ve ever received, noting: “You don’t get a lot of feedback with mentoring because if you do your job right the student moves on and lives the rest of their life. This lets you know that the energy that you’re putting into it is actually worth it.”

About the award

The Jackson Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring recognizes the positive impact Case Western Reserve University faculty and staff have on the lives of students. It was established by J. Bruce Jackson (ADL ’52), in honor of Dean Carl F. Wittke, who served as an advisor, mentor, and friend to Jackson when he was an undergraduate student at Western Reserve University.

The Jackson Award celebrates faculty and staff who have guided a student in their academic and career paths; fostered the student’s long-term personal development; challenged the student to reflect, explore and grow as an individual; and supported and/or facilitated the student’s goals and life choices.