Engineering’s Xiong (Bill) Yu honored with 2023 John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Mentoring

Xiong (Bill) Yu often draws parallels between his mentoring style and his engineering research. 

As the Opal J. and Richard A. Vanderhoof Professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Yu applies insights from his degrees in civil engineering, computer science and electrical engineering—areas of study that make his research highly interdisciplinary. By integrating these engineering principles to address socioeconomic challenges, Yu’s goal is to achieve sustainable solutions to infrastructure development, energy use and geosystem resilience, all while mentoring students in his lab to pursue these goals and their own. One focus area among his research team is adaptive infrastructure—designs that adjust to different climates and environments. 

“I describe my mentoring philosophy as adaptive mentoring,” he said. “Adaptive mentoring helps students grow a diverse skill set, while focusing on enlightening their common good. Every student, when they decide to pursue a PhD, has the ambition to excel in academia.”

Yu’s approach to mentorship pays off. And during the School of Graduate Studies’ diploma ceremony Friday, May 19, he will receive the John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Mentoring.

Since 2009, Yu has graduated 18 PhD students with 13 received tenure track faculty positions—two of whom received National Science Foundation Career Awards and five who have been recognized as young investigators by various entities. 

“Dr. Yu is an exceedingly affable professor who you’ll find easy to approach,” one student nominator wrote. “He’ll treat you with kindness and compassion, expertly resolving the majority of your issues.”

As part of his adaptive mentoring style, Yu encourages students to enjoy the journey.

“At different stages, students need different mentoring [approaches] to help them set the right focus,” Yu said. “In the end, I suggest my students enjoy the process of discovery.”

The award committee cited Yu’s commitment to students when selecting him for this honor, noting he is “the model of everything we expect from a faculty mentor” and that he is “actively growing and working on [his] skills, as well as helping others with theirs.” 

When asked what this award means to him, Yu explained it means a lot.

“I am very committed to mentorship,” he said. “I enjoy trying to help each student unleash their academic potential and be successful. I am very humbled and proud to receive this recognition.”

About the award

The Diekhoff Award honors John S. Diekhoff, a distinguished scholar, teacher, mentor and administrator who served Case Western Reserve in several capacities during his tenure from 1956 to 1970: professor of English, chair of the Department of English, dean of Cleveland College, acting dean of the School of Graduate Studies and vice provost of the university.

The Diekhoff Award, established in 1978, recognizes outstanding contributions to the education of graduate students through advising and classroom teaching. The annual award is presented to two faculty members who epitomize what it means to teach graduate students: to connect them with experts in their discipline, engage them academically in a forthright and collegial manner, and actively promote their professional development. In 2009, the Diekhoff Award was expanded to recognize two additional full-time faculty members who excel in the mentoring of graduate students. A committee of graduate studies students, with the guidance of the Graduate Student Senate, reviews the nominations and recommends winners.