UMBC’s 2004 Valedictorian

Published: Jun 29, 2004

Mentoring the Next Generation of Researchers


Last month, assistant professor of sociology Shelia Cotten was named the first recipient of the Graduate Student Association’s UMBC Recognition for Graduate Research and Educational Advisor or Teacher Award (UR GREAT Award). The award, presented at the GSA’s last Senate meeting of the year, was established to honor those who strive to aid graduate students in their academic and professional pursuits during their time at UMBC.

Cotten’s philosophy on graduate teaching and mentoring draws her students into academic life from the very beginning. “I believe that graduate students should be fully engaged in the research process and the life of the department,” she says. “Engaging students allows them to get more out of their graduate school experience and leaves them more well-prepared to use their new skills in a work environment.”

To achieve this goal, Cotten works closely with her graduate students on their research, often co-authoring articles or presenting at conferences with them. Cotten’s own research has focused on the relationship between stress, psychosocial resources and well-being and the social impacts of technology usage, but her work with graduate students has also included topics such as the impact of alcohol abuse among college students and prenatal information given to women.

In addition to including students in her research, Cotten has also made significant efforts to ensure that graduate students have opportunities to be full participants in the life of their department. She recently created a professional seminar course for first-year graduate students designed to integrate them into the field of sociology and their department while also introducing the grad students to faculty and their research.

Cotten’s efforts are clearly noticed by her students. Says Brian Ward, one of seven students who wrote recommendations supporting Cotten’s nomination, “Dr. Cotten’s obvious passion for teaching inspires me to do my best work. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she has been the biggest academic and professional influence in my life.”

“It was a great honor and surprise to be the first recipient of the UR GREAT Award,” says Cotten. “I teach the way I do because I love sociology and I want my students to love it just as much, not because I expect any special recognition. It was wonderful to see that my work has made a difference in the lives of my students.”



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