Kristina Theam with her mentor at the 2019 SACNAS conference
Shelby Dolim Working with Her Mentor

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship (OVPRS) Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Work was created in 2020 by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) in the OVPRS at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UHM).

The award recognizes up to two outstanding mentors each academic year (one from a STEM discipline, and one from a non-STEM discipline) who have: (i) shown dedicated and sustained excellence in mentoring of undergraduate students in their research and creative work endeavors; and (ii) significantly and positively impacted their mentee’s academic and/or professional achievements through research or creative work mentorship.

UROP encourages UHM undergraduate students to submit a Student Nomination Form to nominate UHM mentors across all disciplines on campus who meet the award criteria by 5:00 pm, February 1 of each academic year. By February 15, UROP will invite all eligible nominated UHM mentors to submit a Mentor Application Form with a deadline of 5:00 pm, March 1 of each academic year. The awards will be conferred at the Mānoa Awards Ceremony, typically held at the end of April each academic year, and each awardee will receive a $500 honorarium.

See here for more detailed information.

Past Awardees

Samir Khanal

Samir Khanal is professor of environmental engineering in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. His research work focuses on exploring innovative technologies that interface with the environment and energy toward developing a carbon-neutral society. Khanal’s current research activities include anaerobic digestion, macro-algal cultivation, nanobubble technology, aquaponics and machine learning and artificial intelligence applications in microbial-mediated processes (biological transformations facilitated by microorganisms). He has mentored more than 30 undergraduate students in his Bioenergy and Environment Research Laboratory. Many of them have received their first hands-on research experience in the lab and on the field. Khanal also provides his undergraduate students a chance to work closely with postdocs and graduate students in his lab, and offers opportunities to present their research work in weekly lab group meetings and discussions. He strongly believes such exposure inspires many of them to pursue graduate studies. A student stated, “I’ve learned so much from Dr. Khanal over the years. He is a huge inspiration to  all of us.”


Pier-Carlo Tommasi

Pier-Carlo Tommasi is an assistant professor of premodern Japanese language and literature in the College of Arts, Languages & Letters. Tommasi’s scholarly interests focus on medieval poetry, life writing, book history and samurai culture. He covers a range of interdisciplinary topics designed to prepare students for future roles as global citizens and cultivate a deeper understanding and appreciation of our interconnected world. Tommasi advocates for rethinking contemporary issues through the prism of the past, engaging students with rare book materials, calligraphy workshops, poetry composition and creative multimedia projects. This approach fosters immersion and innovation in the study of East Asian classics. A highlight of his pedagogy is the Archive Project, a collaborative initiative with the Honolulu Museum of Art that offers students the opportunity to conduct research on original artifacts from the Lane Collection, one of Hawaiʻi‘s largest collections of traditional Japanese prints and manuscripts. As one student shared, “These experiences brought our class curriculum to life, emphasizing the practicality of classical Japanese studies, and provided resources and connections available on-island.”


Craig Nelson

Craig Nelson is an Associate Researcher in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, jointly appointed to the Department of Oceanography and UH Sea Grant. His laboratory group in the Daniel K. Inouye Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education is focused on aquatic ecosystem ecology specializing in the structure and function of natural bacterial communities in diverse habitats such as coral reefs, lakes, streams, and the open ocean. His students train in culture-independent metagenomic characterization of natural microbial communities and measurement of biogeochemical processes regulated by these microbes. He is actively involved in promoting undergraduate research programs at UHM, including mentoring diverse student projects and serving on the steering committees of the Global Environmental Science program and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Council. His students work on many projects serving the state, including coastal wastewater pollution and the emerging Red Hill crisis.


Wendy Kawabata

Professor of Art Wendy Kawabata is the Associate Chair and undergraduate advisor for the Department of Art & Art History at UH Manoa. She teaches courses in Drawing, Painting, and Color Theory. Her research is influenced by and responds to multiple materials and disciplines, such as feminism, literature, and social justice. She brings this interdisciplinary involvement with her into the classroom. Along with her own experiences she brings a desire to offer each student the appropriate practical and theoretical tools they will need in order to continue their education beyond their time as a member of a learning institution.

One student wrote, “Wendy has high standards that are not beyond the reach of the students. I appreciated the support and challenge. I feel like under her guidance, I have grown as an artist and a person. I am so grateful to Wendy for all she has done this semester.”


Tyler Ray

Tyler Ray is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering. He seeks to inspire, teach and mentor the incredible undergraduate students at UH Mānoa through independent research. Based upon a core foundation of mutual trust, he strives to empower students by fostering a mindset of scientific discovery. Ray launched a unique, highly interdisciplinary research program that incorporates mechanical / biomedical engineering, materials science and analytical chemistry to develop soft, flexible electronic and microfluidic devices that form intimate interfaces with the epidermis for monitoring the physiological health status of an individual. He uses his research as a powerful means to train students to become thoughtful, creative engineers poised to be thought leaders in their respective fields. In his short time at UH, he has trained (or is training) 12 undergraduates in addition to starting a highly successful Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) bioprinting team, which placed first in the VIP poster competition within its first year of existence..


Stephanie “Lani” Teves

Stephanie Nohelani Teves is an associate professor and chair of the department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS). She teaches courses in LGBTQ histories, queer theory and Indigenous feminisms. As advisor and now chair of WGSS, Teves led the effort to create an undergraduate certificate in Queer Studies which launched in fall 2022. Her mentoring philosophy is to model for students what accountable research looks like. Teves believes transparency and consistency are key components of responsible knowledge production. She works to dispel many of the myths of research and academia that focuses on results rather than the process of research or creativity. She believes it’s imperative to demystify the processes of research to make academia more accessible, accountable, and possible for multiple communities. Teves is author of Defiant Indigeneity: The Politics of Hawaiian Performance and co-editor of Native Studies Keywords. Her current research focuses on the transformation of “sexuality” in Hawaiʻi from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. She is also the principal investigator of the LGBT+ Kupuna Oral History Project.

Lisette Marie Flanary

Lisette Marie Flanary is an associate professor of digital cinema at the Academy for Creative Media who teaches courses in screenwriting, producing, critical studies and indigenous filmmaking. As the director and producer of Lehua Films, Lisette creates documentaries that celebrate a modern renaissance of the hula dance and Hawaiian culture. Her award-winning films, AMERICAN ALOHA: Hula Beyond Hawaiʻi, Nā Kamalei: The Men of Hula, and ONE VOICE have broadcast nationally on public television and shown in film festivals around the world. Her latest film, TOKYO HULA, the final film in a trilogy of hula documentaries exploring the explosive popularity of hula in Japan, premiered at the Hawaiʻi International Film Festival in November 2019. TOKYO HULA was recently awarded the Best Moana Whārahi Films From the Pacific Award at the Doc Edge Film Festival in New Zealand and was also the winner of Best Feature Film at the Made in Hawaiʻi Film Festival in 2021. The Hula Trilogy was broadcasted on the Pacific Heartbeat Season 10 series on PBS Hawaiʻi in May-June 2021.

Megan Porter

Megan Porter is an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences in the College of Natural Sciences. Stemming from the quote “Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world” (adapted from Arthur Schopenhauer), her mentoring philosophy is to challenge students to view the world from different perspectives by studying how different animals see their environment.  She regards independent research as a critical component of undergraduate education, and often a transformative experience for students.  At the University of Hawai’i she has fostered research opportunities for undergraduate students in multiple contexts, including individual projects in both the field and the lab and course-based research experiences. She works closely with students at each step of their project to help them develop their individual interests and explore opportunities for the next steps of their career paths.

Brittany Biggs

Brittany Biggs

Brittany Biggs is an assistant professor of animation with the Academy for Creative Media. Her feature film credits include Trolls, Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda 3 and Turbo. Biggs creates hands-on, practical mentorship projects that help students excel in their academic studies and prepare them for future careers. Her students apply and hone their animation, filmmaking and storytelling skills by creating films and/or researching new applications for animation that are beyond the scope of the curriculum. Their resulting work is critical material for demo reels, portfolios and resumes for graduate school admission and/or professional work. Student works have been recognized in local media, film festivals, the prestigious SIGGRAPH conference and have been used to support research within the UH community. Biggs served as an advisor to nearly 90 students in the animation track. A student shared, “The structure and quality of my work has greatly improved since she began teaching me, and I feel like I am better prepared to join the animation workforce after graduation.”


Pratibha Nerurkar

Pratibha Nerurkar

Pratibha Nerurkar is an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. She regards undergraduate research and mentoring as a “high impact practice in higher education” and considers it as one of the most rewarding activities of her teaching career. Her teaching philosophy is inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.” She recognizes that her role as a mentor is not only to transfer knowledge, but to empower students to think logically, scientifically and critically. The foundation of her mentoring principles are built upon trust, mutual respect, compassion and above all her love for teaching. Nerurkar believes that being a perpetual student of life, enables her to become a better teacher. A student wrote, “I desire to be a physician who is able to balance scientific knowledge and emotionality in a way where patients feel heard, just as Dr. Nerurkar is able to do with her students.”

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