At Harvard since 2014, Mario Luis Small, Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology, is one of the recent winners of the Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Awards, a student-led award that honors GSAS faculty for their excellence in mentorship. Read more about this year’s winners in “What Makes a Mentor Great.”
“It’s an honor to have received the Mendelsohn Award,” says Small. “I think it’s a nice opportunity to help GSAS communicate the message that advising is an important part of what we professors do, that it requires hard work, and that students notice when we put in the work.”
Small met his primary nominator, Mo Torres, PhD student in sociology, during his first year in graduate school when Small taught his qualitative methods course.
“Mo had an interest in important issues and was always very promising in clear ways,” says Small. “My approach was to nudge him here and there and to both encourage him and stay out of the way—which is what you do with strong students.”
For his part, Torres found out about the Mendelsohn Awards a little late in the game—about 48 hours before the nomination deadline, to be exact.
“As a fifth-year student, I was feeling increasingly grateful for everything Mario has done for me and his other students,” says Torres. “When I learned about the deadline, I decided to email some of my peers and see if we could put a nomination packet together quickly. Within a day, we had eight single-spaced pages of praise and touching stories about Mario, which I think speaks to his impact.
“When an advisor puts energy and time into you, you want to do the same for them.”
Small was also elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences a few weeks prior to winning the Mendelsohn Award, which Torres sees as a testament to his well-roundedness.
“To win this prestigious scholarly award—a high point of his career as a researcher—at the same time he is praised for his mentorship is impressive,” says Torres. “I’m sure many scholars probably feel they have to pick one or the other, but in Mario’s case research and mentorship complement each other perfectly.”
Small thinks a lot about his advising practice and recognizes that—like many of his academic colleagues—you can make mistakes in the process and try to learn from them and grow as a mentor.
“As an advisor, I tend to be pretty frank to help get students to the meat of what I’m trying to say,” says Small. “It’s not just about making their work better, but helping them understand the entire discipline, academia as a field, and the profession itself.”
Small also sees finding the right fit to be of utmost importance.
“If a student decides that they want to move outside of academia or try something new, it’s okay by me,” he says. “All of my students are adults and they should build their own lives. You only live once and you have to do what you want to do, and I’m here to support that.”