Larry Aaronson | Building a legacy of learning through mentorship
Larry Aaronson’s microbiology lab is affectionately known by the students who have entered it over the past 20 years as “graduate school boot camp.”
“The level of challenge is significant here. We work our students hard, but the payoff is great,” Aaronson explains. Upon graduation from boot camp, his corps of undergraduate researchers perform well in gaining admission to the nation’s most competitive graduate schools and following that path to careers as scientists in industry, government, and academe.
“Our students are very successful in going on to graduate schools like Yale,” Aaronson says. “They’re being very heavily recruited. They’re getting big fellowships and scholarships to support their work. They’re going to some of the top medical and dental schools in the country. And those that go out into the workplace are as well skilled as those from any of the top private or public universities. The feedback that I get from employers and graduate schools is, ‘Send us more.’”
Aaronson engages his charges in the scientific process at a level that is uncommon for students at most undergraduate institutions. Consequently, UC students are presenting and publishing research that rivals that of graduate students and post-docs.
“We’re doing real research,” says Scott Britton ’07. “That’s not the case with undergraduates at large research institutions. They don’t have as strong a grasp of the material simply because when you go to a school like that, you’re a lab technician. You’re making media plates instead of actually doing research.”
While the experience of working in his lab is demanding – campus safety and custodial personnel tell stories of spotting students in the lab during the dark morning hours – Aaronson is hardly a drill sergeant. In May 2007, the American Society for Microbiology and Carski Foundation presented him with the Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award, recognizing his long history of closely mentoring and advising undergraduate researchers.
For Aaronson, mentorship represents an opportunity for scientists to leave a vital legacy of learning to those who follow them in the profession. “Our students are our link to immortality, academically,” he says. “My expectation is that they will have learned the value of this and will go out and become mentors to the next generation.”
It’s a tradition his junior faculty colleagues have embraced.
“Professors come to Utica College because of the opportunity to work with students on research. That’s what attracted people like (Professors) Terri Provost, Adam Pack, Bryant Buchanan, and Sharon Wise, who are doing amazing work with their students,” Aaronson says.
“It’s a wonderful learning environment here. It cultivates inquiry, it cultivates excitement about learning, and I’m glad to be part of it.”