Graduate School Awards Outstanding Faculty Mentor, Master's Thesis Awards

Kaleb Turner, who was honored for Outstanding Master's Thesis Award in Humanities and Fine Arts.
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Kaleb Turner, who was honored for Outstanding Master's Thesis Award in Humanities and Fine Arts.

The Graduate School and International Education has announced the winners of its Outstanding Faculty Mentor and Outstanding Master's Thesis Awards.

Mike Richardson, professor of horticulture, earned the Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award recognizing his long-standing service to graduate students on campus, while Kaleb Turner, assistant director of communications in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences who is a graduate student in the Department of Communications, won the Outstanding Master's Thesis Award for his thesis investigating the role of daily communications in campus communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mike Richardson

The Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award celebrates demonstrated success at graduate student mentorship at the U of A that includes positive role modeling as a professional, establishment and maintenance of high academic standards, a reputation for facilitating student learning and success as a mentor over a significant portion of the candidate's career.

photo of Mike Richardson at the university agricultural experiment station
Mike Richardson at a turfgrass field at the UA System's Agricultural Experiment Station in Fayetteville.

Richardson has served as a faculty member at the U of A since 1998. Over his more than two decades of work, he has directly supervised 15 master's students and four Ph.D. students, in addition to serving on 29 master's and 8 Ph.D. committees from a range of disciplines. Those efforts have resulted in 54 journal articles and 50 trade journal articles on their research, in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant support.

By receiving this award, Richardson will be nominated for the regional award through the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools. In the nomination letter to the conference from Curt Rom, interim dean of the Graduate School and International Education, Rom praised Richardson's work in the classroom, laboratory and field with his students.

"His students learn good science — how to hypothesize, plan, start, execute and finish their research projects leading to successful publications and useful technologies," Rom wrote. "He has taught them to be good teachers and educators. He has shown them how to engage the industries and public and share their science and knowledge."

Richardson was also lauded for his work to help graduate students become independent thinkers and better communicators.

"Dr. Richardson's success as a graduate mentor becomes obvious in the awards and recognitions his students have received, the publications by and with his students, their professional engagement and their current career status," Rom continued. "The students with whom he has worked have become recognized professionals. Their career success was forged by the mentorship from Dr. Richardson. This is a case of 'Success builds success.'"

In addition to mentoring students, Richardson also helped launch a faculty mentoring program in the Department of Horticulture to guide junior faculty through the promotion and tenure process. Since 2014, the mentoring committee has helped five faculty members receive promotions from assistant to associate professor, and five additional assistant professors are currently in the program.

Kaleb Turner

The Outstanding Master's Thesis Award in Humanities and Fine Arts recognizes a student's completed thesis project representing original work that makes an unusually significant contribution to the discipline. Turner's thesis explored the impact social capital and daily communication played in campus community resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, finding that "microcommunities" — such as a university campus — can harness communications to build resilience.

Turner's research included focus groups conducted with students, faculty and staff in addition to one-on-one structured interviews with students, resulting in more than 500 pages of transcripts. The research builds on existing resiliency frameworks while providing opportunities for continued research on the definition of community and the expanded role of communication in community resiliency.

"The aim of Kaleb's project was to understand how a university community communicatively constructed resilience during a public health crisis that disrupted the traditional capacities individuals and communities rely on when faced with adversity," wrote Matthew Spialek, associate professor of communication who advised Turner on his thesis. "Using Dr. Patrice Buzzanell's communicative theorizing on resilience as a theoretical framework, Kaleb explored how individuals crafted a sense of normalcy, harnessed social support and developed positive-focused narratives over the span of the pandemic."

Turner's thesis has also earned the National Communication Association's Top Master's Thesis Award in the social sciences field.

"It is easy to understand why his project has been so positively reviewed," Spialek continued. "His work is heuristic and will lead researchers across disciplines to consider the challenges of constructing resilience narratives within campus communities. His theoretically-driven, methodologically sound design is currently serving as a model for future generations of applied communication researchers. Kaleb's thesis topic was community resilience, but his ability to conceptualize and complete this entire project remotely was an act of his own resilience."

Turner has served as the assistant director of communications in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences since Spring 2022, where he leads social media and various communication projects for the college. He currently teaches classes in the Department of Communication.

By winning the award, Turner's thesis is nominated to compete as the U of A's nominee for the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools Master's Thesis Awards.



John Post, director of communications
Graduate School and International Education


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