Jennifer Willard Named 2020 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor

Psychology professor wins the first award of its kind at KSU 

KENNESAW, Ga. (May 1, 2020)  — Jennifer Willard, a professor of psychology in the College of Jennifer WillardHumanities and Social Sciences, was awarded the inaugural Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for  exhibiting sustained exceptional mentoring of undergraduate researchers at Kennesaw State University.   

The Office of Undergraduate Research created this award to formally recognize the dedication and commitment of the faculty and staff who have been engaging undergraduates in their research efforts over the years. 

“Dr. Willard is a model mentor of undergraduate researchers,” said Amy Buddie, director of undergraduate research.  “There were several parts of her application that really struck reviewers.  For example, Dr. Willard helps her students develop professionally ranging from the students creating goals for themselves each semester that are shared with other lab members to create accountability to her leading career-focused workshops on topics such as resume writing and job interviewing.”

“Dr. Willard’s students also participate in all aspects of the research experience, from developing a project to presentation and publication,” added Buddie. “Her students have won awards for their research, and many go on to prestigious graduate programs and careers.” 

Out of nearly 20 applicants for the award, Willard emerged as the most outstanding research mentor, due in part by what a few of her students had to say in the nominating application, according to Buddie.  As one of the letters noted, “she has been the most influential mentor we have had during our entire education.” 

Since joining KSU in 2008, Willard has mentored more than 50 undergraduate researchers.  She regularly works with undergraduates on research by teaching the Department of Psychological Science’s Research Methods and Statistics course, supervising students’ Honors projects and senior capstone projects, as well as supervising volunteer and directed study students who work as undergraduate research assistants in her lab. 

In addition, Willard has co-coordinated the Georgia Undergraduate Research in Psychology (GURP)  conference, hosted by the Department of Psychological Science, for the last nine years.   

“I am incredibly honored to receive this award, as I know there are numerous faculty both in my department and across the university who are so deserving of this award,” said Willard, also associate chair of the Department of Psychological Science. “I am fortunate to be a part of a department, college, and university that embraces undergraduate research, and to have the opportunity to collaborate with such high caliber students.” 

For Willard, the most important aspects of a good mentor include strategy, structure and organization, as well as having regular ongoing conversations with students about goals and expectations. She emphasized that there is no best way to be an excellent mentor, but certain components of mentorship lay the groundwork for a good collaboration between her and her students. 

Willard said that the most rewarding part of being an undergraduate research mentor is when she sees her students unknowingly become mentors to other students. She described how her students became effective mentors through their own actions of showing responsibility, initiative, and hard work.   

“My students have gained important skills and knowledge as part of engaging in the practice of research, which includes activities such as reading journal articles, developing valid measurements, analyzing data, and presenting research findings,” she said.  

“However, equally as important in this experience has been the emphasis our research lab places on professional development activities,” Willard added. “Helping students be successful in their time beyond KSU is my ultimate goal.” 

— Landon Mion