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Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award

Each year, Undergraduate Research Symposium presenters are given an opportunity to nominate their mentor for the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award. Nominations are considered by a small review committee of faculty and staff. Faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and research staff are all eligible for nomination.

Below are quotes from the students who nominated these outstanding researchers and educators.

Congratulations to our 2024 awardees!

Leighann Chaffee, Associate Teaching Professor

School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences; Division of Sciences & Mathematics (UW Tacoma)

“Leighann Chaffee is the rare mentor who is able to motivate students through her investment and involvement in their academic success. When I see how she gives her best to me and the rest of her students, I can’t help but do the same. She has been accommodating to my research interests, and she has taken a thoroughly collaborative approach. She has offered tireless support as I work through the challenges involved in my first research experience. Leighann Chaffee has been instrumental in helping me build competence and complete a research project that I can be proud of.”

Karen Leung, Assistant Professor

Aeronautics and Astronautics

“Professor Karen Leung’s dedication to my research project has been nothing short of remarkable. Despite juggling the responsibilities of overseeing a busy research lab and teaching commitments, she consistently carves out time for our weekly meetings, serving as a steadfast guide through roadblocks and bottlenecks of my work. Additionally, she actively helps me find connections within the academic community, facilitating invaluable networking opportunities. Thanks to her efforts, I had the privilege of presenting alongside researchers from the CTRL laboratory at a research symposium, an experience that broadened my perspective and enriched my understanding of our field. Moreover, what set Dr. Leung apart is her balance of support and the independence she gives me. While she offers continuous advice and encouragement, she also encourages me to explore my interests and dive deep into the research process. Furthermore, her proactive approach includes actively seeking out opportunities where I can apply my research, ensuring that my work has real-world impact. Under her mentorship, I’ve not only grown as a researcher but also gained the confidence to continue in academia.”

K Manbeck, PhD Candidate


“K is incredibly supportive in all aspects of our research projects in addition to our own lives outside of research. They are committed to facilitating a space where we can feel safe as human beings in addition to broadening our horizons to the world of research, particularly supporting those belonging to communities that are traditionally excluded from research. They have made me feel like I belong in research and navigate these unknown waters with their support and guidance, it makes me hopeful for my future and grateful that I have them on my side.”

Melanie Martin, Assistant Professor


“We are nominating our mentor Dr. Melanie Martin due to her outstanding contributions to her students and research. Dr. Martin is extremely knowledgeable in Biological Anthropology with a focus on growth, development, and maternal and child health. She is a phenomenal professor who is extremely compassionate and kind towards her students. As a professor, she is dedicated to ensuring student success and sharing her knowledge and passion for the subjects she teaches. She applies the same kindness and knowledge to her research and has made valuable contributions to the literature in biological anthropology. When we started this project, neither of us had prior experience with research. Despite knowing this, she did not hesitate and gladly took us under her wing. She taught us crucial skills for research including laboratory methods and statistical analysis. These skills are incredibly important to both of us as we are both pursuing careers that heavily involve research. Dr. Martin always supports students in their research, academic, and personal goals. She is the most supportive and incredible faculty member we have worked with.”

Yolanda Padilla, Associate Professor

Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (UW Bothell)

“Professor Padilla has been an incredible mentor throughout this project, helping guide my research, advising my writing, and encouraging me to present my research; if it weren’t for her, I would never have the motivation nor the courage to participate in the Seattle and Bothell Undergraduate Research Symposium. There were times when I was struggling to write or wanted to quit, but her patience and understanding helped me keep going, giving me the motivation to finish my project. I have taken other classes with her, as both a student and a Peer Facilitator, where I have seen her have this infectious enthusiasm for what she teaches. She is a great teacher and mentor, and she deserves this award.”

Mark Wiley, Research Fellow

UW Medicine

“I want to nominate Dr. Wiley for the Outstanding Research Mentor Award. Adjusting to life and academia at the University of Washington as an international student was daunting. Dr. Wiley made this transition smoother for me. Over the past two years at Jung Lab, he hasn’t just been a mentor; he’s been an essential guide through my study and research journey, helping me reach milestones I didn’t think possible. Dr. Wiley’s guidance was crucial in me winning the Mary Gates Research Scholarship and the Levinson Emerging Scholars Award. He supported my involvement in a research publication and my first presentation, which were key steps in my academic growth. His encouragement and support were also instrumental in my acceptance into a PhD program in immunology at WashU, a goal I’m thrilled to pursue. More than just guiding me in research, Dr. Wiley helped me adapt to a new academic and cultural environment. He improved my skills in the lab, my writing, and my critical thinking. His influence has been significant in both my studies and research. I think he deserves this award for all the help and guidance he’s given me.”

Thomas Wood, Research Assistant Professor

UW Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology

“Dr. Wood is the sole remaining individual of his kind. He is the most supportive, the most genuine, the most ambitious, the most considerate, and much more. He is the most “everything”. Research has always ignited my interest in healthcare, and joining his lab stands as one of the best decisions I have ever made. I initially was filled with the fear of making mistakes, but he continuously recognized how he was also once in my shoes and looked up to people who would allow him to comprehend that this is, in fact, the place to overcome such fears by asking questions without any hesitation to maximize learning. There is a saying emphasizing how everything has an end, including the life we are living, except for one thing. It is the fact that we will forever remain as students. Dr. Wood is the definition for this as he acknowledges himself to be a life-long learner despite the decades of experience. He has given me, as well as my remarkable lab mates, the comfort to consider him not only as our primary investigator but also a friend we can reach out to at any time to have sincere conversations.”

Bo Zhao, Associate Professor


“I am writing to nominate Professor Zhao for the Outstanding Research Mentor Award in recognition of his support throughout my research process. Professor Zhao’s guidance has been essential in the development of my research, particularly as this is the first time that I have ever attempted a project on this scale. He has been incredibly patient, understanding, and generous with his time in regards to helping not only me, but also the rest of the students in the Geography Departmental Honors program and for that I believe he should receive this award.”