Seefeldt and Berke Honored as Research Mentors of the Year

Utah State University’s Office of Research has named Lance Seefeldt as the 2019 recipient of the Outstanding Graduate Mentor of the Year Award, one of Utah State’s most prestigious honors. The award is given annually as a recognition of faculty members who excel in the complex process of mentoring graduate students to prepare them for productive careers.

Seefeldt is a professor of biochemistry who has been at Utah State since 1993. He received his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of California, Riverside. He did his postdoctoral research at the University of Georgia before coming to Utah State in 1993. Since then, he has mentored 25 graduate students, 30 undergraduate students and six postdoctoral students in a variety of fields. Many have gone on to hold positions in universities and research institutions. 

His lab focuses on nitrogen and nitrogenase enzymology and understanding how it works in our world. Since arriving at USU, Seefeldt has had continuous funding for his research, including grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA. A prolific writer as well as a prolific mentor, Seefeldt’s lab routinely publishes 10 to 12 papers a year, with more than 130 peer-reviewed papers and 27 book chapters to his name. 

Seefeldt has been recognized for his teaching and mentoring, along with his research. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2012 D. Wynne Thorne Career Research Award, the university’s highest research recognition, and the College of Science Teacher of the Year in 2007. He has been a member of many panels and fellowship programs across the nation, chairing at conferences and presiding over committees.

Brad Wahlen, one of Seefeldt’s former students, said “If I had the opportunity to go back and do graduate school all over again, I could see myself studying at another university, perhaps in a different field, but I cannot see myself studying under a different mentor.” 

Other students mention his willingness to ask students for input, something they found vital to their graduate school experience, as well as his individual care for each of his students and his willingness to talk with them about mutual interests outside of their research. 

Seefeldt was recognized at the Faculty Awards ceremony Monday, April 6 as part of USU’s Research Week. 

Zip Sac by Athlonic Sports inventor of the Wheeler Dealer Soft Toss machine

Ryan Berke was announced as 2019’s Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year. Berke, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, was chosen from a pool of outstanding mentors from each college. He was recognized at the Faculty Mentor Breakfast on April 9 as part of USU’s Research Week. 

Berke came to USU in 2015, where he was twice named the MAE Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year in 2016, 2017 and 2018 before receiving the university-wide award this year. He has mentored 34 undergraduate students in his time at USU, as well as eight graduate students, many of whom have been recognized for their research contributions at a university-wide level. 

Before coming to USU, Berke earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park. He then went on to study at Ohio State University, earning his doctorate before doing his postdoc in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois. His research focuses on experimental solid mechanics, examining these materials in challenging environments, especially in high temperatures. 

Berke headed a grant proposal to study LGBT+ representation in engineering with psychology professor Renee Galliher. Both are looking to work against the stigma in the sciences and identify barriers that prevent students from getting an education, and support systems that help. Berke’s statement on his lab website talks about his dedication to “broadening participation of underre presented groups in engineering,” and his belief in “pro-active outreach to create equal opportunities for such groups.” He is committed to inclusivity in STEM, and working to do his part in his own lab. He heads both the Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics chapter at USU and the Native American STEM Mentorship program, as well as the USU Student Chapter of the American Nuclear Society. 

Berke’s lab website focuses on the accomplishments of his students, naming their fellowships and awards alongside his own. His evaluation scores are consistently high, with students consistently citing his willingness to help students both in and outside of class. 

“It’s an honor to have so many outstanding mentors from all across the college,” said Larry Smith, interim vice president for research. “Dr. Seedfelt and Dr. Berke stood out, it’s easy to see exactly how much they care about the students they mentor.” 

Research Week is an annual series of events hosted by the USU Office of Research, featuring award ceremonies, lectures and the university-wide Student Research Symposium. More information is available at

Sky Optics Media drone video