As the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science community convened virtually for our seventh annual Commencement ceremony to celebrate this year’s graduates, Associate Professor Matt Fitzpatrick from the Appalachian Laboratory was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Mentorship Award.
Known for making mentoring a priority within his lab and throughout the broader community, spatial ecologist Matt Fitzpatrick was nominated by students who have benefited from his kind and welcoming nature.
“I am truly honored to have received this award. As a mentor it’s always hard to really know if you’re doing a good job or giving the best advice,” said Matt Fitzpatrick. “If I’ve been a good mentor, it’s for two reasons: I’ve had good students that have made my job really easy, so thank you to my students who have worked really hard to do the best that they can do, and thanks to the mentors I’ve had throughout my life who have taught me how to be a good mentor.”
The UMCES Graduate Student Council created the Outstanding Faculty Mentorship award to recognize faculty for their commitment to students beyond the classroom. Through making mentoring a priority within his lab and the broader community and often adopting ‘orphaned’ students when original primary advisors have had to leave, Matt Fitzpatrick embodied the exact values this award aims to celebrate.
“Matt is often our trusted go-to person for professional and personal advice, insights into the mysterious inner workings of academia and UMCES, and honest discussions about everything from the latest spatial modeling approaches to effective science communication to Appalachian plant ID,” said Claire Nemes, an “orphaned” Ph.D. student who was welcomed into Fitzpatrick’s lab. “Though under no obligation to do so, he was willing to take me on as a Ph.D. student and strove to support my research interests and curiosity despite being in a different field. This helpfulness and approachability extends far beyond programming and modeling expertise.”
He is known around the Appalachian Laboratory to have an open-door policy for anyone on campus to discuss both science, as well as outside interests like astronomy and photography. He guides students, while also allowing them to develop their own paths supporting them “unreservedly in whatever their goals may be.” Fitzpatrick aims to prioritize effective teaching, ensuring his students clearly understand complex scientific topics in and outside of the classroom.
“Matt is incredibly generous with his little spare time and is very willing to chat about his science and yours. This attitude helps foster a sense of community and I believe generates ideas that would not have otherwise come to fruition.”
Fitzpatrick’s involvement in the UMCES community expands past his interaction with students, as he has served as the Chair of three faculty hiring search committees at the Appalachian Lab and served as committee member on a fourth to help expand and improve the campus community.
Students were asked to write testimonials about the professor they wish to nominate for the Outstanding Faculty Mentorship Award. Among testimonials from his students are accolades of his diversity in knowledge and helpful advice:
“His persistent encouragement and understanding for my difficult situation was essential for getting through this period of occupational insecurity. Similarly, he always cared and supported me during my first weeks in Maryland, helping me to settle in my new life.” (Assistant Research Scientist Susanne Lachmuth, who relocated from Germany to UMCES)
“Matt is down-to-earth and easy to talk to and is always willing to discuss career goals and to talk about life. His advice has been instrumental in helping me think about the pros and cons of potential graduate programs and jobs.” (Natalie Haydt)
“I felt Dr. Fitzpatrick was an excellent graduate advisor who was not only heavily invested in his students’ successes but also demonstrated a genuine interest in their professional growth and development as scientists.” (Postdoctoral Research Fellow Andy Gougherty)
In addition to UMCES students, he has worked with and mentored students from neighboring Frostburg State University.
This Outstanding Faculty Mentorship Award is award is far from the first award Fitzpatrick has received. At UMCES 2019 Commencement Ceremony Fitzpatrick was presented with the President’s Award for Excellence in Application of Science for his outstanding work helping the public understand the impact of climate change and ability to capture the attention of the public with his Future Urban Climates web application. His reach of spreading understanding and learning not only spans the UMCES community but the world.