Christine Duval honored for her contributions to graduate mentoring

Across disciplines at Case Western Reserve University, faculty members play critical roles in supporting graduate students as they prepare for the next stage of their academic and professional careers.

Whether they provide enlightening advice or help a student navigate a complicated subject, faculty members facilitate success on the graduate level.

The John S. Diekhoff Awards for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring recognize faculty members who go above and beyond in these roles. Each year, a committee of students in the School of Graduate Studies selects four recipients “who make exemplary contributions to the education and development of graduate students.”

This year, three faculty members were honored, including Assistant Professor Christine E. Duval, for their mentorship and one for teaching. 

Christine Duval’s favorite thing about mentoring students is the moment when they become the experts.

“It’s really special to take in these students who start off at square one and help them figure out what they want to do with their lives, how to become independent thinkers and all of those skills that extend beyond the laboratory,” she shared. 

It’s the reason she chose academia. Working with students and watching them succeed is what gives her “all the warm fuzzies of the job.” 

Now, Duval, an assistant professor of chemical engineering in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, will be honored with the John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Mentoring, a recognition she says “means everything” to her.

There are a few core values Duval maintains in her lab to ensure success for her students. Most important is cultivating a welcoming lab environment—on both a personal and scientific level. 

“When people are uncomfortable sharing or asking questions, it holds up science,” she said. 

By setting expectations early on, Duval helps her students understand they don’t need to know everything right away and that the learning will happen over time.

“Our research group is a team,” she said. “Everyone was a beginner at some point and we should expect that any questions are asked in good faith with the goal of learning from each other.”

Students excel in this environment—and they point to Duval’s ongoing support of both their academic pursuits and career goals even after leaving her lab. Knowing their journeys to earning degrees could take as long as five years, Duval personalizes each student’s experience, providing resources for whatever path they are inspired to take. 

“I tell incoming graduate students that they cannot find a better advisor than Dr. Duval,” one nominator wrote. “She made my graduate school experience one that I am extremely grateful for and if given the opportunity I would do it all again.”

For Duval, the feelings are mutual.

“Every semester I learn something new from the graduate students,” she said. “They’re constantly pushing the boundaries of their own knowledge and help me do the same.”