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Kelly Holley-Bockelmann Wins 2022 AAAS Mentor Award

Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, Stevenson Professor of Astrophysics in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, has been awarded the 2022 Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS Mentor Award honors university faculty and administrators with distinguished records of mentoring and leadership to increase the amount of underrepresented minority students, women, and first-generation students who earn a PhD in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) field.

Holley-Bockelmann has had a long-standing interest in creating a more vibrant and inclusive scientific community that supports women, minorities, and first-generation college students in both physics and astronomy.

She’s been an exceptional mentor to more than two dozen underrepresented minority students who have gone on to earn a PhD. Her mentees note that they feel seen and heard. Holley-Beckelmann listens first, and interacts with students not just as budding scientists, but as individuals. She commits to growing along with students instead of just dispensing advice.

“I am humbled and honored to received this award, especially as a major career goal of mine has been to continuously improve as a mentor and help mold the next generation of scientists aiming to improve human health,” Holley-Bockelmann told AAAS. “I consider it a great privilege to be in a position to mentor brilliant and motivated young scientists, help launch their careers, and contribute to diversification of the scientific workforce.”

More than one of her mentees said that they stayed in STEM thanks to her efforts. Those efforts extend to Holley-Bockelmann’s leadership of the Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program.

She led the development of a Bridge Bootcamp that helps students hit the ground running when pursuing their graduate studies; she also helped establish a Bridge Emergency fund to assist students with unexpected expenses that federal grants won’t cover – like flat tires and medical bills.

Holley-Bockelmann also helped establish a Bridge Activism Committee to provide opportunities to take action on social justice issues; additionally, she worked to expand the Bridge program to other STEM disciplines at Vanderbilt.

In addition to these achievements, Holley-Bocklemann also played a key role in helping run the Faculty and Student Teams (FAST) program at the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which enables astronomers to map the stars. FAST pairs students and faculty from underrepresented groups with experienced researchers, breaking down barriers to collaboration.