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June 27, 2024

MSU faculty and graduate student honored with Undergraduate Research Mentor and Supervisor of the Year awards

Two Michigan State University faculty members and a Ph.D. student won the Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year and Supervisor of the Year awards for serving as role models and for their strong commitment to mentoring undergraduate researchers.

Dr. Antoinette Tessmer, associate professor fixed term in the Broad College of Business Department of Finance, and Dr. Geoffroy Laumet, assistant professor in the Department of Physiology in the College of Natural Science, received the Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year Award at the 2024 University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum (UURAF) on April 12.

Alyssa “Allie” VanZanten, a graduate research assistant for the Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science in the College of Engineering, received the Undergraduate Research Supervisor of the Year Award. 

The annual awards are driven solely by undergraduate student researchers, who submit nominations for deserving mentors and supervisors. 

Research Mentor of the Year: Dr. Antoinette Tessmer

Antoinette Tessmer holding her mentor of the year award from MSU's UURAF 2024

Dr. Antoinette Tessmer has mentored undergraduate student researchers for more than a decade through the Honors College Honors Research Seminar program. Since 2013, Dr. Tessmer has submitted proposals every fall to mentor young researchers for entire academic years, with research based on stock market data, ranging from gender on Wall Street to sustainable investments.

Dr. Tessmer mentors 15 Honors students every academic year who are inexperienced researchers. Students from business and non-business majors enter the Honors Research Seminar highly motivated and eager to gain research experience. Tessmer said she takes a “liberal” approach when it comes to mentoring her students, introducing research themes with related articles to get the students started before they go on their own to collect data and begin their analysis. Tessmer offers instructions and support, especially using Microsoft Excel models and other technical issues. She also establishes deadlines throughout the year to guide students through their progress.

The students entering Tessmer’s research seminar – who mostly come in having no research experience – find an instructor and mentor in Tessmer who is welcoming and accommodating, encouraging students to share their perspectives and embrace their uniqueness. Tessmer goes above and beyond her responsibilities to support and inspire students, continuing to mentor and advise them on research topics outside the purview of her class. 

“Working with Dr. Tessmer has inspired me to pursue research and the possibility of working as an educator,” one student said. “If I could impact students' lives at even 10% of the level that Dr. Tessmer has impacted my life, I would consider myself an overwhelming success. I am confident that everyone who has worked with Dr. Tessmer will say similar things and agree that she embodies a research mentor deserving of this award and recognition.”

Research Mentor of the Year: Dr. Geoffroy Laumet

Dr. Geoffroy Laumet’s research focuses on finding medications to ease chronic pain while mentoring undergraduate students and easing the pains of learning how to become researchers.

Person holding plaque surrounded by other students on all sides standing in front of the green Undergraduate Arts and Research Forum banner

Laumet currently works with seven undergraduate students in his lab where they research to identify medications that treat chronic pain, unlike anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin which are ineffective when it comes to treating chronic pain. The students in Laumet’s lab and under his mentorship play a pivotal role in the research.

Laumet takes a nurturing approach to his mentorship of students and is committed to offering them professional growth opportunities – an approach that is reflected in a former undergraduate student who has since become a research assistant. The mentorship Laumet provides in his lab is structured and adaptive. He ensures each student receives one-on-one guidance and group support, starting by focusing on the student’s career aspirations and academic strengths to help determine research tasks and responsibilities. Laumet checks in to track student progress, address challenges and provide feedback during regular meetings. His mentorship extends beyond academic guidance to include advice on professional development and preparation for careers in science. His mentorship is built through trusting relationships to make students feel valued and empowered. 

Students who have entered the Laumet Lab and contributed to the ongoing research said they feel accepted, regardless of their level of research experience. Laumet makes students feel valued and encourages them to have fun and take on significant tasks in the lab, beyond simply caring for equipment or analyzing the experiments of other scientists. The outcomes of Laumet’s mentorship include students taking the grand prize at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum, having their research published in scientific journals and securing grants for additional research endeavors.  

“The Laumet Laboratory, under Dr. Laumet's leadership, is more than a research facility; it's a nurturing ground for aspiring scientists,” one student said. “Here, undergraduate research is not just an activity but a transformative experience. Dr. Laumet has fostered a culture where mistakes are addressed respectfully and efficiently, creating a safe learning environment. This approach has been instrumental in building professional relationships between faculty and students, marked by mutual respect and collaborative spirit.”

Research Supervisor of the Year: Alyssa VanZanten

Alyssa VanZanten with MSU President Guskiewicz

Over the four years Alyssa VanZanten has been at MSU seeking her doctorate, she has studied the fundamental forces involved in the swelling of hydrogels, a special type of plastic that absorbs water, which are found in diapers and other objects. Undergraduate researchers have played a critical role in her research, while also receiving invaluable experience, training, and mentorship leading to professional growth. 

VanZanten, a Ph.D. student in Materials Science and Engineering, has typically worked with one undergraduate researcher at a time, including six during her time at MSU. These students come to her through the Engineering Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program, the Professorial Assistant program or are hired by Caroline Szczepanski, who is VanZanten’s principal investigator and an assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Chemical Engineering and Materials Science program.

Undergraduate researchers work alongside VanZanten, often leading sub-projects under the broad interest of hydrogels. After working with Szczepanski to determine broad goals for the project, VanZanten provides initial training and experimental direction. From there, she gives students the freedom to plan their experiments while guiding them toward problem-solving when they encounter challenges and providing mentorship through teaching research skills and best practices. Students are viewed as collaborators, working alongside VanZanten toward a deeper understanding of their research.

VanZanten’s mentorship continues after undergraduate researchers complete their initial goals, moving to guide students on the next steps, but ultimately giving them control and the choice in their project’s direction. Meetings will often be held where students can ask VanZanten questions to learn more about their research data to help determine what experiments they might most be interested in pursuing further. 

A nominator said VanZanten creates a welcoming and educational culture where undergraduate researchers feel like true team members, not just helpers, by encouraging input and working directly with students on their ideas. She encourages students to share their research in presentations, including two students who presented at the Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences in 2021 and 2022, with another student earning a first-place award at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum in 2023. Another student who transitioned into a new project with a different lab presented a poster at the American Chemical Society Midland Fall 2023 meeting after less than three months on the project thanks to VanZanten’s help and encouragement.

“Allie VanZanten is an exceptional role model and mentor, and her commitment to building strong and confident undergraduate researchers distinguishes her as an excellent candidate for the Undergraduate Research Supervisor of the Year Award,” one nominator said.

Learn more about undergraduate research at MSU at

By Mark Johnson