Richard Harrison and the Importance of Mentoring

provost-dan-howardI write this Provost’s Post from Ithaca, New York, where I am attending a Memorial Service for my Ph.D. advisor, Richard Harrison, who passed away this spring while on sabbatical in Australia.  Rick was an iconic figure in evolutionary biology, celebrated for his clarity of thought, his ability to synthesize vast amounts of data into landmark review papers, and his talks, which were invariably lively, lucid, and penetrating.
But for all of his many gifts as a scientist, what truly set Rick apart was his role as a mentor.  Indeed, one is hard pressed to identify any other evolutionary biologist in the world who has trained more undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows than Rick Harrison.  There were many factors that accounted for his success as a mentor, but perhaps foremost were his high expectations, coupled with an unflagging commitment to help his students meet those expectations.  For me, as for many of his students, Rick was a mentor for life.  For almost forty years we remained close, and even as our paths diverged he remained a trusted advisor on science, career, and life.
Rick’s commitment to mentoring reflects an insight that came early to him, that his role as a mentor was every bit as important as his role as a scientist, and that the number of lives he touched and changed for the better would be as strong a legacy as his publications. 
When I speak to young faculty members at NMSU, I often emphasize the important role they will play in mentoring students and the strong tradition of mentoring at NMSU.  My emphasis on the importance of mentoring is due in no small part to the wonderful example set by Rick Harrison.  Happily, faculty and staff members who have come to a similar realization about the importance of mentoring abound at NMSU.  Their presence, and their commitment to student success, makes NMSU a truly special place.

With all best wishes,


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