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Kucknoor selected for 2017 Faculty Mentor Award

Dr. KucknoorLamar University’s Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) has named Ashwini S. Kucknoor, associate professor of biology, its 2017 Faculty Mentor Award recipient.

“Dr. Kucknoor was selected for the award this year because of her natural ability to inspire students in research,” Kumer Das, director of the OUR, said. “She believes that mentoring is an ongoing process.”

Kucknoor received her Ph.D. in molecular microbiology from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, in 2002 and joined Lamar’s faculty as an assistant professor in 2010. Her research interests revolve around understanding the molecular pathogenesis of the parasitic protozoan species Trichomonas vaginalis, the etiologic agent of trichomoniasis, a common STD affecting over 160 million men and women annually worldwide. Further research interests of hers include Tritrichnomas vaginalis, a cattle pathogen, and the tropical vector-borne pathogen Leishmania amazonesis.

“Just to be nominated by a student was surprising and wonderful,” Kucknoor said, “but when Dr. Das informed me of the award I was beyond happy. More than anything else, though, I was humbled.”

Over the past six years, Kucknoor has mentored 37 undergraduate students at LU. Her mentees have received 6 different awards, have published 4 peer-reviewed articles and have presented more than 15 presentations. She attributes her success to her mentoring philosophy.

“I take mentoring more personally,” Kucknoor said. “When I tell a student ‘You can come work with me,’ or when they come to me for advice even in class or lab, I firmly believe that the more you try to know the student and make them feel like ‘Okay, I can talk to her about anything,’ the more your students will be open to listening to you in turn.”

Das and the award’s review committee felt much the same way.

“[We] believe a great mentor needs to listen and understand and also be empathetic toward their mentee,” Das said. “Dr. Kucknoor is such a mentor.”

Kucknoor cites the drive and success of students past and present as the most rewarding return on her mentorship investment. Her first student researcher, Humberto Hernandez, remains one of her top inspirations.

“He asked to speak to me on the third day of class my first year at Lamar, and when I asked him what about, he said, ‘Dr. Kucknoor, I want to become just like you.’ So I said, ‘Maybe I can help—but you need to know that you don’t have to be me; you can be even better than me.’”

Hernandez was the first in his family to attend college. This spring, he will graduate with a Ph.D. in biology.

“To have led him down the path that he eventually took and to see him succeed, and to stay in touch with him and students like him in their endeavors, that’s the most fulfilling thing about this,” Kucknoor said.

Kucknoor also enjoys exposing her students, some of whom haven’t traveled out of the area, to new people and places.

“When I take them to national meetings or conferences, they become so excited to leave their comfort zone and meet new students in their fields,” she said. “I love being able to give that experience to them.”

As for students considering getting involved in a project, Kucknoor attributes research as one of the most transformative activities a student is able to partake in during their college career.

“If you don’t engage in research and just listen to lecture, that knowledge you amass is only factual knowledge. When you actually engage, your curiosity is turned on way more than I think is possible through reading and studying alone,” she said. “That hands-on experience will give students a better grasp of what they’re learning and develop their overall personality as well—research teaches students time management skills, how to handle failure, how to best interact with others in a unit or in general—it all has the potential to turn them into better people.”

Going forward, Kucknoor’s goal is to continue to do well by her students.

“Now as before, I just hope to provide a great experience for all students—and broaden their horizons in the process.”