2023 Kimberly Peterson

Posted on May 01, 2023

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Dr. Kimberly Petersen is the recipient of the 2023 Thomas Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for tenured faculty.

Since joining UNCG 12 years ago, she has mentored 35 undergraduates in her research group, which focuses on developing new ways to synthesize molecules. 

Eight of her students have been published as undergraduates, two received travel awards from the American Chemical Society, and, in just the past five years, 25 have presented their research at conferences, with some even winning awards for those presentations. In 2021, one of her mentees received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

“When you mentor undergraduate students, you get to spend a lot of time with them one on one, and you really get to know them and see them grow as a scientist and as a person,” she says. “You can see the change that has happened in their confidence and in their abilities. And it’s just really an amazing experience.”

Students have gone on from Petersen’s lab to highly ranked graduate programs, medical school, and successful careers with major biotech companies. Two of her students received prestigious NSF graduate fellowships for their graduate studies. “Now at Caltech, I am so grateful to have had a PI that built up my self-confidence,” shares one of her former mentees. “There are multiple examples where Dr. Petersen helped me grow past imposter syndrome. She saw potential that I didn’t see in myself.”

Petersen says, “I try to make our research group very supportive. Everybody is cheering for everyone else. We really try to build each other up.” Petersen, who identifies connection, inclusion, opportunity, and engagement as essential to teaching and mentoring, is particularly committed to recruiting students from groups historically excluded from her field. “It brings new experiences to the table and new mindsets and new ideas.” 

As part of her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, she serves as co-PI on two NIH-funded and NSF-funded programs at UNCG that aim to support students from underrepresented groups in science. 

“Having these opportunities exposes students – who traditionally haven’t been welcomed into STEM – to something that maybe they didn’t know they would be passionate about,” she says. “Then they take it and run with it and go in a million different directions.” Petersen received UNCG’s Alumni Teaching Excellence Award in 2018, as well as her college’s teaching award the previous year, and she has previously held UNCG’s Candice Bernard and Robert Clickman Dean’s Fellowship. One of her prized possessions is a mug gifted to her by her students that reads: You’re not only the best chemistry teacher, but also the best father. “My students tell me that I’m kind of like that awkward dad with the jokes and whatnot.”  When asked about her experiences as a mentor, she says, “I’m moved by the stories my students tell me after they leave. I’ve had students get back in touch with me and say, ‘I thought we had something special at UNCG, but when I’ve gone elsewhere, I can really see how special that time was.’”

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