Toby Nelson

Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence
Oklahoma Mentor Day

Toby Nelson

Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater

Toby Nelson, assistant professor of chemistry at Oklahoma State University, has been recognized as the outstanding mentor for Oklahoma State University’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, a program that pairs faculty mentors with minority students.

In nominating him for this honor, Brenda L. Morales, program director and vice president for institutional diversity at OSU, lauded Nelson for his success in discovering new research topics and developing new technologies as well as for the work and energy he puts into his students (including OK-LSAMP Scholars) to ensure their success.

“He has a family, classes, multiple research projects, collaborators, and he still finds time to mentor and advise his undergraduate mentees,” she writes.

Nelson has served as mentor for OSU student Jeron Holden for two years. When Jeron was still seeking direction for his research, Nelson encouraged him “to think critically about his course choices and discouraged him for being rough on himself,” Morales says. Nelson helped Jaron apply for a Research Experience for Undergraduates opportunity and wrote a letter of recommendation for him. Despite the short turnaround time, Jeron was accepted into the program.

Morales notes that Nelson frequently takes his research group, which he considers family, out for wings, chips and dip, creating valuable bonding opportunities.

Morales describes their mentor/mentee relationship as unique, in that while the two can communicate complex topics in chemistry, on occasion they are on different wavelengths, requiring the help of members of the research group to gain mutual understanding. Over time, she says, they have learned to communicate with each other more effectively and have moved on to also discuss non-academic matters, such as movies and where to get a good haircut.

Of his relationship with Nelson, Jaron credits his mentor for further piquing his interest in research. “At first, I thought, ‘eh, research is OK. I don’t know about doing it forever.’ As I got deeper into performing experiments, analyzing compounds and discussing conclusions and how we can further improve technologies, that’s when I decided I really wanted to continue to work in research and improve my knowledge of chemistry. Dr. Nelson further inspired the inner scientist I already had inside of me.”

Nelson admits having a passion for mentoring, and that mentoring is not always easy. “I get joy watching people of all colors blossom from a seed that needs nutrients, nurture and care, into trees that are independent, strong and a great value to our society,” he says. “Now, they can go and diversify society with their knowledge, experiences, culture, etc. My group is my family, so I protect and take care of them.”

About the Program: Through the Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, underrepresented college students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are paired with faculty mentors to learn research skills. Each campus in the Oklahoma Alliance has a campus coordinator who adds extra mentoring to the students in the program.