Professor Stephen Alexander has been awarded a 2016 Gold Chalk Award from the University of Missouri Graduate Professional Council.
“I was really surprised to get this award and truly happy,” says Alexander. “I think that receiving a Ph.D. is a singular life event, and mentoring graduate students in this pursuit has been extremely gratifying to me.”
The annual award is given to MU faculty who have made significant contributions to the education and training of graduate and professional students.
Since 2011, Alexander has served as Director of Graduate Studies for the Division of Biological Sciences, managing a program of approximately 85 Ph.D. and master’s students. In this position, he has worked hard to enhance the graduate experience for our students and to recruit the best students nationally. Most notable is his advocacy for graduate student rights and his record of securing funding for graduate students.
Alexander also mentors students at all levels in the lab, in the classroom, and as Director of Graduate Studies. He has served as the principal advisor for a number of doctoral and postdoctoral trainees, many of whom are now in major academic and industry positions worldwide.
Supriya Srinivasan (Ph.D. ’00), assistant professor of chemical physiology at the Scripps Research Institute, is one of Alexander’s former students. She says she learned as much from watching Alexander be a scientist as she did from conducting and interpreting her own experiments.
“Steve is a stickler for scientific rigor, immensely driven, gifted in his ability to discern a real experimental result, but simultaneously patient, able to be compassionate and see the humor in daily life,” she says.
Kimberly Jasmer-McDonald (Ph.D. ’15) learned similar personal and professional lessons from Alexander. While pursuing her doctoral degree in biological sciences, Jasmer-McDonald also competed on the women’s swim team. She says Alexander saw the discipline she acquired from swimming as a skill to be utilized in her scientific career.
“Just as he has done with me, he has done with many other students — recognizing each unique quality as a valuable resource, something that enriches our potential, rather than something to be ignored or extinguished,” says Jasmer-McDonald.
William Swatson echoes this sentiment. While he recalls feeling not fully prepared for the rigors of graduate school when he started, Swatson says Alexander saw his talents and developed them into strengths in the lab.
“He is the reason I challenge myself to do better and to fully understand the rationale for any approaches I take in answering a scientific question,” says Swatson, who will be completing his doctoral studies this summer.
Like Jasmer-McDonald, Swatson says that Alexander wants to see all students succeed.
“There is really not much else in his professional career that fulfills him more than seeing students get ahead,” says Swatson, adding, “He is an all-around champion for students.”
Alexander was formally presented with the Gold Chalk award during the Graduate Awards Banquet on April 27.