Established this year, the award recognizes outstanding scholarly achievements and contributions to graduate education at NIU. Each award recipient will receive $2,000 and be recognized during the Graduate School commencement ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at the NIU Convocation Center.
“Provost Lisa Freeman and I established this annual award to recognize the outstanding mentoring that our faculty provides to graduate students,” says Bradley Bond, Graduate School dean. “It’s fitting that Walker Ashley and Mark Frank are the first recipients. They’re outstanding scholars and master teachers, whose mentoring directly results in our students’ academic and career success.”
Ashley is an atmospheric scientist and physical geographer who specializes in meteorology, severe storms and applied climatology. He teaches courses in meteorology, climatology and disaster science. His research, which often attracts media attention, focuses on such areas as quantifying how human exposure contributes to weather-related disasters.
Ashley has published nearly 40 peer-reviewed articles, often co-authored with graduate or undergraduate students. Colleagues say his presence at NIU draws students from across the country.
“Most of Walker’s graduate students have been co-authors on presented and published papers,” says professor Andrew Krmenec, former department chair. “But equally as important is that many have presented work on their own and were recognized with various best paper, poster or presentation awards. Two of his students received the NIU Graduate School’s Outstanding Thesis Award.”
Stephen Strader, who as a Ph.D. student co-authored numerous research publications with Ashley, had a job waiting after graduation as a professor of geography at Villanova.
“Dr. Ashley’s motivation, tough love and mentorship have set me up for long-term success,” Strader says. “He has always encouraged me to work hard, focus and push myself beyond my comfort zone.”
Geology students and faculty similarly heap praise upon the work of Mark Frank.
Frank teaches courses in earth materials, geochemistry and petrology. He serves as graduate director and academic advisor for all geology graduate students while also teaching a foundations of graduate research class that helps students prepare for their careers. This past year, students in the course won more than $50,000 in external funding for their own research.
Highly respected as an experimental mineralogist and petrologist, Frank and his students seek to understand processes within the Earth by conducting experiments on minerals and fluids at pressures up to 30 million pounds per square inch and temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“He is a devoted, caring mentor whose hard work earns the undying respect and loyalty of his students,” says Mark Fischer, department chair.
Joshua Ehlich chose NIU to study under Frank, who later secured a National Science Foundation grant that funds Ehlich’s research.
Ehlich says Frank provides timely feedback, sets clear expectations, approaches each day with humor and supports students in and out of the classroom—including when Ehlich welcomed his first child into the world last spring.
“Dr. Frank was always there to offer advice when needed,” Ehlich says, “and support when I was feeling overwhelmed.”