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Superb scientist, influential mentor

CEOE’s Matthew Oliver selected for outstanding doctoral advising and mentoring award

University of Delaware associate professor Matthew Oliver received the 2017 Outstanding Doctoral Graduate Advising and Mentoring Award during UD’s doctoral hooding ceremony on Friday, May 26.

The award is given annually to faculty members whose dedication and commitment to excellence in graduate training have made “a significant contribution to the quality of life and professional development of graduate students” at UD.

Oliver is noted for being “a superb scientist, collaborator and scholar who has excelled in a number of scientific disciplines.” But it is his role as a graduate student mentor and adviser that is considered one of his strongest attributes.

“Dr. Oliver creates an environment within his lab that allows his students to succeed. He instills the importance of teamwork…provides honest advice…and has the highest character. My graduate school experience, and perhaps life trajectory, would have been much different without him as a mentor,” said UD alumnus Megan Cimino, currently a post-doctoral scholar at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Since joining UD in 2008, Oliver, the Patricia and Charles Robertson Professor of Marine Science and Policy in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, has advised or mentored 19 master’s and doctoral students at UD, and has served as a committee member for three students pursuing degrees at other institutions.

Collectively his current and former graduate students are lead authors on 11 scientific journal publications and have given 45 presentations at local, regional, national and international conferences.

Under his tutelage, the students learn to communicate their science to a variety of stakeholders including U.S. senators, Delaware state representatives, news organizations, the military and industry professionals. In turn, the graduate students mentor undergraduate interns who are part of Oliver’s lab, passing on guidance, lessons and advice to their younger academic peers.

As a professor, his students called Oliver’s courses rigorous, engaging and individualized to student needs. Communication and critical thinking are expected in his courses and lab, they said, adding that Oliver values his students feedback as much as they value his.

“Dr. Oliver studies the student reviews after every semester…noticeably adjusting his courses to better serve the student needs to prepare them for careers as marine scientists,” said Danielle Haulsee, who earned her doctoral degree in oceanography Friday.

“He facilitates an amazing work environment where we can exchange ideas and come up with innovative solutions to problems that have been puzzling researchers and conservation managers for decades. By fostering this team atmosphere his students are able to leverage each other to take their research to the highest level possible,” added Matthew Breece, also among this year’s doctoral graduates.

The students also noted how Oliver cares about their well-being and stresses the importance of work-life balance. Leading by example, they said, he can be counted on to attend student-driven activities and routinely invites students to his home for cookouts and family gatherings.

Whether he is evaluating research progress, challenging students in class or advising them toward professional success, Oliver mentors more than just the student, he nurtures the whole person. Former student Erick Geiger remembered most Oliver’s lessons on life and professionalism.

“Matt’s teaching in the field of marine science is secondary to the guidance I received in the importance of becoming a career-ready professional…Matt and his wife, Korin, attended [my] wedding last year, five years after I graduated from UD. And yes, he gave us advice for married life, too,” Geiger said.

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