Collaboration Creates Career Path, Earns Brownie Points

Ryan Holmes, left, and Megan Hart in the lab. Photos by Brandon Parigo, UMKC Strategic Marketing and Communications

Dynamic duo in engineering researches and bakes

With a student-to-faculty ratio resembling a small private college, UMKC makes mentorship a central part of the student experience. Though more than 16,000 students are enrolled, the 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio is unusually small for such a large university.

The result: UMKC has many mentorship success stories.

Meet Megan Hart, assistant professor in the School of Computing and Engineering, and Ryan Holmes, Interdisciplinary Ph.D. student whose primary discipline is Civil Engineering with a co-discipline in Chemistry. He’s expected to graduate in 2018.

Megan Hart

Tell us the story of your mentorship.

Megan Hart: Ryan was an undergraduate student when I first came to UMKC as an adjunct. As I become full time, he transitioned into a graduate student. He is driven to understand things in minute detail, as well as the holistic big picture. He wants to start a business performing environmental remediation based upon the research he does in my lab.

He has grown so much since I first met him and I am so proud of the researcher he has become, but I am equally proud of him as a person. All of my students I care for, but my lab group students are my work family. I do my best to support them in all shapes and forms. One time I went to retrieve a stolen iPad with him!

Ryan and I share recipes and baked goods routinely, and I promised him that he can have my award-winning brownie recipe when he is hooded for his Ph.D.

Ryan Holmes

Thanks for sharing these brownies at the interview. They might be the best brownies in the world. Seriously.

Ryan Holmes: They are amazing! The recipe will be as coveted as the diploma.

Without Dr. Hart, I would not have a future livelihood. In my research, I am working on a concrete that filters out contaminants from drinking water. She told me “that’s great – now go make more of yourself. Take this technology and go save the world.” Now there’s a patent pending, and it’s what I intend to do in countries where people, especially children, need safe drinking water.

Dr. Hart has inspired me in many areas that I hope to someday instill into my future employees. She is focused and makes sure that I am focused as well since I regularly struggle with dreamy, potential research projects. We have at several points had conflicting opinions or hypotheses, but she has always respected me by listening to my ideas and helping me understand why her hypothesis is usually the correct one.

Dr. Hart can juggle so many priorities, from a family at home to all of her students in class, and still regularly makes time for me to just drop by her office and talk about research plans or stressors in class. She is willing to always ask “what’s wrong?” when she sees me or any other student with stress or pain, demonstrating that she has a lot of compassion for others.

How has Dr. Hart challenged you?

Ryan Holmes: Dr. Hart has always encouraged me to look up the answer rather than just feeding answers to me. She has given me good direction with books and resources, but she also cares enough to allow me to fail so that I learn how to perform future research correctly.

What makes faculty mentorship critical to student success?

Megan Hart: Engineering school is hard. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the math and science death march. Research is even harder because there is no one exact answer and you don’t have a solutions manual to check your work. Without someone to guide you along that path, or to even get you on that path in the first place, you can easily get lost and give up. That’s when a good mentor can step in and help direct both class work and research.

Ryan routinely comes into my office to ask questions about any number of things and I always try to make sure he is the center of my attention when he is here, so that he knows he is valuable and his questions valid. That doesn’t mean I won’t correct him or let him know I have deadlines. It just means I always try to have time for my students, even when I don’t.

Some people go their whole lives without having a mentor. What advice would you give people about finding one?

Ryan Holmes: While it is hard to find a good mentor, it is even harder to stick with them because a good mentor knows how to make you hurt. A mentor isn’t someone who always cheers you on or focuses on your successes. They may do that, but more importantly they will chip away at areas of your weakness and channel your strengths so that you can be the best version of you. That comes with pain and struggle to change, so anyone who doesn’t want to hurt will probably not find a good mentor. So for anyone who wants a good mentor, they need to be up for this challenge.

>Dynamic duo mentorship pairs

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