GSA Faculty Teaching/Mentoring Award goes to Kasper, Wong

GSA Faculty Teaching/Mentoring Award goes to Kasper, Wong

Rice News staff

Rice faculty members Kurt Kasper, faculty fellow in bioengineering, and Michael Wong, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and in chemistry, are this year’s winners of the Graduate Student Association’s Faculty Teaching/Mentoring Award. The award is presented annually to faculty members who demonstrate outstanding service to graduate student education.


“I am deeply honored to receive this award,” Kasper said. “It’s shocking to me to be recognized for this so early in my career.”

Kasper earned his Ph.D. in bioengineering from Rice in 2006 and also conducted postdoctoral research at Rice before becoming a member of the Department of Bioengineering faculty in 2008.

He said he has a unique perspective to offer graduate students because he was so recently in their situation, but he said the students themselves play a vital role because “mentoring is a two-way street” and because no two students are alike.

“This award is a direct reflection of the excellent mentoring that I received as a graduate student at Rice and that continues to be given to me by my colleagues in the department,” Kasper said.

Kasper’s research focuses on the development and evaluation of novel materials and approaches for the regeneration of orthopedic tissues, including bone and cartilage. He is the author of more than three dozen publications and has contributed significantly to the preparation of an undergraduate-level textbook on biomaterials.

Kasper served as a visiting researcher at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan in 2004, received Rice’s 2011 Hershel M. Rich Invention Award and won the Association of Rice Alumni’s Sallyport Award for University and Community Service in 2006. Kasper earned his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in 1999 from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and conducted his doctoral and postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Antonios Mikos, Rice’s Louis Calder Professor of Bioengineering.

Wong said he was also surprised and honored when he learned the GSA was recognizing him for his teaching and mentoring.

“I was really touched by this,” Wong said. “I tell all of my students, ‘If you are going to graduate with a Ph.D. from my group and from Rice, then I’m going to make sure you’re capable of competing with anybody out there. Part of my mentoring approach is to give real-time feedback to each student in all aspects of doing research. If you collect exciting results, I’d be the first to high-five you. If you muff a group talk, well, I’d be the first to give constructive criticism.”

Wong said he holds all his students to high standards, not only for their research, but also for their nontechnical skills. He said being a Ph.D.-level researcher means more than just learning how to do cutting-edge research. It also means knowing how to write well, speak well, work well with others and manage multiple projects well.

“It even means knowing how to give a proper handshake,” Wong said. “These are things that are accumulated wisdom, and I want to give them as much of that advice as they can absorb — and hopefully a little more.”

Wong joined Rice in 2001. His research centers on nanotechnology and includes investigations in assembly chemistry, the scalable production of nanoparticles and the development of nanoparticle catalysts — materials that spur chemical reactions without being consumed. His catalysis research has focused on ways to break down toxic chemicals in groundwater and to more efficiently produce petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Wong’s numerous honors include the Young Investigator Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers’ Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum, Rice’s 2006 Hershel M. Rich Invention Award, a 3M Nontenured Faculty Award and MIT Technology Review’s TR35 Young Innovator Award.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.