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A brief discussion with AAAS mentor award recipient Dr. Cato T. Laurencin

Dr. Cato Laurencin says that mentoring from his parents was important to his success, and is part of why he continues to focus on mentoring today. (Image: Cato Laurencin)

At this year's AAAS annual meeting, Dr. Cato T. Laurencin, M.D., Ph.D., was the recipient of the 2012 AAAS Mentor Award "for his transformative impact and scientific contributions toward mentoring students in the field of biomedical engineering." Dr. Laurencin has also been awarded with a number of other honors  including the Presidential Faculty Fellow Award from former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from President Barack Obama. Among many other appointments, Dr. Laurencin is currently a Professor at the department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UConn Health Center.

Though widely recognized as a renowned scientist, it is his stature as a distinguished mentor that has prompted me to get in touch with him and ask a few questions regarding the topic. Here is what we discussed:

AAAS MemberCentral: What has inspired you to focus much of your attention on mentorship? Why do you think mentorship is so important?
Cato Laurencin, Professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center: I've been fortunate to have had a large number of great mentors in my life, starting with my parents, who have had profound influences on me. They've really shaped my life. Mentorship is critical to success in life, it was in mine.

AAAS MC: You were recently awarded the AAAS Mentorship award, which honors individuals who during their careers demonstrated extraordinary leadership to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering fields and careers. Why do you think it is important to encourage an increase in participation of these underrepresented groups?
Laurencin: I think mentorship is particularly important for individuals who are both underrepresented and minority. There need to be more positive images and examples of success among us, and mentorship activities can help to foster that. At another level, it is becoming increasingly clear that the participation of underrepresented groups in engineering and science will be critically important to the success of our nation as we compete on a global scale.

AAAS MC: Do you feel that mentorship should become a larger component of higher education? What about with regards to medical training?
Laurencin: Yes, I do. I think that mentorship is in some ways a discipline to be taught. The National Science Foundation has recently begun an initiative for focused, sustained mentoring of underrepresented groups. I was very happy to see that part of that program focuses on developing mentorship skills.

AAAS MC: It is quite evident from your CV that you have many commitments and responsibilities, how do find the time to effectively remain engaged in mentorship?
Laurencin: I've often said that after it's all said and done, success is really what you leave behind. I don't 'find time' to engage in mentorship, it really is a part of the core of who I am and what I do. I think to be an effective mentor, it has to be a priority.

AAAS MC: As it is challenging to find a mentor such as yourself, do you have any advice for potential students/mentees who are looking for strong mentorship in their educational experience?
Laurencin: Great teachers, great scientists, great people are often also great mentors. Find people who are smarter than you, who respect you and treat you well. Then contact them for advice, and keep in touch. Relationships are built with trust and time.

Related Links

Cato T. Laurencin Wins 2012 AAAS Mentor Award