Jessica Fox, Aysegul Keskin Zeren honored with Jackson Award in recognition of their undergraduate student mentorship

A student’s growth is not limited to the lessons they learn in a lecture hall or classroom setting. As they set out to apply their knowledge and newfound skills in the real world, they are oftentimes backed by influential mentors who can help guide them. 

Across the Case Western Reserve University campus, faculty and staff members share their insights, experience and resources to aid students in that process. In recognition of the importance mentors play in a students’ academic journey, the J. Bruce Jackson MD Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring was established by J. Bruce Jackson in honor of Dean Carl F. Wittke.

The Jackson Award honors faculty and staff members who have guided a student academically, fostered the student’s personal development, challenged the student to grow, and supported the student’s goals and life choices.

Wittke was an advisor, mentor and friend to Jackson while he was a student at Western Reserve University.

Read about this year’s winners below.

Photo of Jessica Fox.
Jessica Fox

Jessica Fox

Professor, Department of Biology

When asked what makes the Fox Lab at Case Western Reserve a special learning environment, students don’t hesitate to praise the lab’s namesake, Jessica Fox—specifically, her inspiring approach to academics and coaching on how to become a scientist. 

Fox, a professor in the Department of Biology since 2013, isn’t new to being recognized for her contributions to teaching and mentoring both undergraduates and graduate-level students. A recipient of several awards over her career, including the 2021 John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Mentoring, she’s honored to now receive the 2024 J. Bruce Jackson Award—a recognition made special by the many student nominations it involved. 

“I’ve been so impressed with the undergraduate students I’ve mentored at CWRU, particularly this year,” Fox said. “I’m honored to be a part of their stories.”

Fox, who earned her PhD from the University of Washington, is known to guide her students through experimentation and research that focuses on sensory neuroscience. Through these efforts, they work to understand how neurons take visual and mechanical information and combine it to guide behavior. 

Fox also encourages students to be flexible, independent and to study what interests them. And the approach pays off—her nominators for this award all said they’ve been encouraged to try new approaches. 

In nominating Fox for this award, one student wrote, “What’s special about Dr. Fox is that she allows us to fail, to make our own mistakes. She understands that it’s only through these mistakes that we can learn and improve.” 

Others commented on how Fox takes interest in them personally and treats her students as equals, collaborators and scientists. 

“I remember going to her office and asking her if she could help me,” one student said. “It was clear to me that she was busy, but her response was ‘I will make time.’ She puts me first. It’s a wonderful thing to feel valued and respected.”

When complimented, Fox immediately puts the emphasis back onto her students.

“College is a transformative period for many students. It’s the place where they move from learning to doing; from absorbing knowledge to producing knowledge,” she said. “It’s the greatest honor of my career to guide our talented, hard-working students on this journey.”

Photo of Aysegul Keskin Zeren.
Aysegul Keskin Zeren

Aysegul Keskin Zeren

Assistant director for student experience and adjunct assistant professor of political science

For Case Western Reserve students planning to go into public service or still exploring potential career fields, Aysegul Keskin Zeren is a much-appreciated resource. As assistant director for student experience in the Career Center, she alerts them to internships, writes letters of recommendation—“countless” letters, one student remarked—and conducts mock interviews. And when they have to make big decisions or feel uncertain about their futures, she helps them think through their options.

The students who successfully nominated Keskin Zeren for the J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring sounded not just grateful, but astonished, when describing the ways she supports them. 

“She literally sends me internships that would be a good fit for me. If that is not the sign of a meaningful mentor relationship, I do not know what is,” one nominator wrote. “And the fact she maintains such a connection with nearly every single one of her students is amazing.“

Another student, who needed help negotiating for a summer internship, wrote: “She took time out of her lunch break from Intersections for a conversation about the offer and next steps—not just once, but twice. And I know I am not the only student whom her kindness and generosity has touched.”

Keskin Zeren first came to Case Western Reserve in the spring of 2022 as an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, teaching classes on human rights, conflict resolution and related topics. Her academic credentials include a PhD in political science from Kent State University and a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution from Sabanci University in Turkey.

Because she found working with CWRU undergraduates so rewarding, Keskin Zeren began looking into staff positions at the university. She joined the Career Center in March 2023 but still teaches a course every semester. 

Keskin Zeren says the most rewarding part of her job is hearing her students’ stories, learning about their feelings, needs and aspirations, and coming to understand them as “whole human beings.” 

“Here at CWRU, she explained, “there is room to build meaningful relationships, and students are open to it.”