In Aaron Stoker’s lab, he is not known as Dr. Stoker or even Professor Stoker. Instead, his students refer to him by another name.
“We call him our ‘lab dad’ because of the caring attitude he has towards our futures and us,” wrote one student in a letter nominating Stoker for the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award.
“He really has become a father figure in the lab, not only ensuring we are comfortable conducting our research, but also asking us about our lives, our interests and our aspirations,” read another student nomination. “You learn to understand that Dr. Stoker cares about you, not just the research you contribute to the lab.”
It is that caring and nourishing environment that led Stoker, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery, to be named an Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor for 2018.
“It is humbling to be recognized for something I love doing so much,” Stoker says. “To know that I made enough of an impact on my students for them to want to honor me in this way is a bit overwhelming.”
Stoker sees three primary roles at a mentor: aiding students in achieving their goals in life and making sure they are doing what they need to do to progress to the next stage in their education; helping students learn to think critically to objectively evaluate the data and develop hypothesis-driven research projects; and conveying that science is not a solo endeavor, but that teams always achieve more than individuals.
“I find that working with undergraduates has made my working experience more fulfilling,” Stoker says. “Every day is filled with a new set of challenges and rewarding experiences. It is rewarding to watch the students grow as individuals, and to see them invest not only in themselves, but the success of others in the group.”
Stoker enjoys seeing the pride his students take in their research.
“I find that once an undergraduate student takes ownership of a project, they bring a level of excitement that is infectious, and drives me to be more creative in my research,” he says.