- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Ecologist Louie Yang, associate professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, is the recipient of a major academic advising award.
NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising, singled him out as the winner of the Faculty Advisor Award of Excellence in Pacific Region 9, comprised of California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Yang will be honored at the Pacific Region 9 meeting set for March 21-23 in Santa Rosa. NCADA promotes students' success by advancing the field of academic advising globally.
"Dr. Yang excels in fostering creative and critical thinking, challenging his students to succeed by linking their academic studies to research and other career goals," said Steve Nadler, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomolgy and Nematology. "His mentees not only include undergraduate and graduate students, but high school students and postdoctoral scholars and beyond. He attends to the unique needs and interests of each student, respecting their perspectives and ideas. Mentorship, he finds, is really about helping students identify the questions that they want to ask. His success is their success."
An important part of his advising is his work in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), a campuswide program co-founded by Jay Rosenheim, Joanna Chiu and Yang. Aware that some of the most important skills for research biologists cannot be taught in big lecture halls or even in lab courses, they set out to help students learn cutting-edge research through close mentoring relationships with faculty. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal? To provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research.
In addition to RSPIB mentoring, Yang mentors many undergraduates in his lab. He has welcomed and mentored students from UC Davis and from around the country with the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program (Natalie Gonzalez and Jacob Penner) and the UC Davis-Howard University Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Ecology & Evolution Graduate Admissions Pathways (EEGAP) program (Kabian Ritter).
In the past year, Yang mentored 15 undergrads in his lab in studies that included: the nonconsumptive effects on monarch development to see if parasitoid avoidance behaviors in early development have a long-term cost for monarch development; the factors that contribute to herbivory by generalist herbivores on milkweed;the effects of a recently observed plant foliar fungal pathogen on milkweed on monarch growth and development; the costs of switching milkweed species for monarch larvae; and the density dependence in larval and adult blue milkweed beetles
Yang, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2009, teaches Insect Ecology and Field Ecology. He holds a bachelor's degree (ecology and evolution) from Cornell University, 1999 and received his doctorate from UC Davis in 2006. His goals as an advisor are three-fold:
- To be honest to the unique needs and interests of each student. "I aim to assess the advising needs of each student individually, recognizing that these needs can change quickly. I listen and watch, try not to make too many assumptions, and remind myself to expect the unexpected. Science is a human endeavor, and the same diversity of ideas and perspectives that fuels scientific progress means that each scientist needs different advising to succeed. In many cases, I have found that the primary task of mentorship is helping students identify the questions that they want to ask. I seek to respect each student's unique perspective and interests, and to believe what they say."
- To facilitate intellectual independence. "My aim is to help students transition from being consumers of knowledge to becoming producers of knowledge. This transition requires giving students the intellectual freedom to learn from their own decisions. I aim to maintain appropriate humility when I provide advice; when working at the limits of available knowledge, I believe that we usually recognize the best decisions only in hindsight, and the best outcomes often result from a willingness to capitalize on unexpected events. As a research advisor, I am committed to the long-term success of each student, but encourage students to exercise their intellectual courage and curiosity, even at the risk of short-term failures. We develop as scientists by making our own mistakes, and using those mistakes to improve our judgment. I remind myself allow enough gaps in my advising to allow students to learn first from their interactions with nature.
- To learn from his students. "I believe that mentorship should be a two-way street, and I expect my students to develop the knowledge and confidence to teach me things that I don't know. As scientists, we are motivated by learning new things, and this is a model of advising that is intellectually engaging and sustainable over the long-term. More importantly, it gives my students the opportunity to become experts and teachers, and to view themselves as intellectual colleagues and contributors."
Former student Allyson Earl, now a researcher in Guam, credits Yang with shaping her academic career: "I had the pleasure of working under Louie Yang for the last year of my undergraduate degree at UC Davis as one of his research assistants. I watched as he worked tirelessly with several other student assistants in the lab on personal projects focused on our study subjects, Monarch butterflies. His mentorship style in these projects was one that guided students to draw their own conclusions rather than handing them answers, leading them to ask more complex questions and develop themselves as better students and scientists. I can say with confidence, he not only nurtured my desire to study the intricacies of ecology, but also to pursue a career in this field, without his guidance and support I would not be where I am today."
Yang also launched the Monitoring Milkweed-Monarch Interactions for Learning and Conservation (MMMILC) Project in 2013 for high school students in the environmental science program at Davis Senior High School or those associated with the Center for Land-Based Learning's GreenCorps program. They monitor milkweed-monarch interactions in a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Yang and UC Davis undergraduate and graduate students serve as mentors.
Yang strongly supports student diversity, under-represented groups, and graduate education. Two of his undergrads, including one Latina, were supported by a supplemental Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). He has mentored graduate students from the Entomology Graduate Group, the Graduate Group in Ecology and the Population Biology Graduate Group. He serves on many guidance, exam and advising committees. He also has participated in mentoring workshops at the Center for Population Biology.
Yang earlier was selected faculty recipient of the 2017 Eleanor and Harry Walker Academic Advising Award from the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES).
Sue Ebeler, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, praised Yang's focus on student diversity, his efforts in helping students link their academic studies to research and other career goals, and his innovative programs working with high school students and connecting these students with undergraduate and graduate student mentors.
The Associated Students of UC Davis nominated him for an Excellence in Education Award in 2012. He received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award of $600,000 in 2013.