Faculty Mentor of the Week Kevin Yeager
Dr. Kevin Yeager is an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences and Director of the Sedimentary and Environmental Radiochemistry Research Laboratory (SERRL). His research interests involve sedimentary processes in and climate change- and human-driven impacts on rivers, lakes, coastal and marine environments, fates and impacts of terrestrial and aquatic contaminants, and radiochemical and geochemical methods applied to questions in geology, geomorphology, limnology, and marine science. Research at SERRL focuses on questions involving sediment sourcing, transport, mixing and accumulation, and related processes in geologically "young" (Pleistocene to modern) sediments found in contemporary sedimentary systems, including rivers and their floodplains, marshes, deltas, lakes, estuaries, coastal and open ocean settings.
In the past year Dr. Yeager has mentored five undergraduate students and to date has had 28 undergraduate research assistants involved in his research. He explains the best part of being a mentor is "having the privilege of working creatively in a research environment with gifted and enthusiastic students." Undergraduates participate and contribute to Dr. Yeager's projects by assisting with field sampling, laboratory work, analytical analyses, and data reduction. He strongly encourages his undergraduate research assistants to pursue presentation opportunities, as well as serving as co-authors on presentations and peer reviewed manuscripts.
Dr. Yeager was nominated for this recognition by one of his mentees who noted, "Dr. Yeager is a powerhouse of knowledge, highly productive, and most importantly, emotionally invested in his students. The breadth of his research invites and nourishes students with a variety of interests. Kevin maintains a busy schedule but always entertains drop-in meetings with students. Every interaction with him results in a deeper understanding of the subjects he deals with. He has the capacity to explain difficult concepts in the most accessible and concise way. His patience, kindness, forward thinking, persistent mirth, and moral constitution have inspired me into research inquiries of my own. Dr. Yeager has been nothing but an exceptional resource to his students from day one, which is why I believe he deserves to be formally recognized as a mentor of high caliber.”
As an undergraduate researcher, Dr. Yeager was given the opportunity to undertake a senior thesis that involved the excavation, reconstruction, identification, and interpretation of vertebrate fossils (giant, armored fish from the Devonian Period ~350 million years ago) preserved in siltstones dissected and exposed by a small stream in rural Pennsylvania. He explains, "All of the elements were there for me, field work, laboratory work, museum experience, literature review, writing, presentations of results, etc. It was one of a few early experiences in geology that helped me understand how everything I had learned and was learning was connected, and that being a professional in this field would also require skills and efforts I had not yet realized. Experiential learning, effective in my case."
For undergraduates interested in research, Dr. Yeager looks for students who are reliable, hard-working, conscientious, diligent and competent. He states, "Beyond those qualities, I value inquisitiveness, initiative, open-mindedness and creativity." His advice to students is to "Make sure that it is something that you want to invest time and effort in, given your existing academic, professional and personal obligations." Dr. Yeager adds, "Be discerning, don’t just take the first opportunity that you discover, look to find something that fits well with your interests. Find one that fits your curiosity, work hard, and there can be many rewards. Take advantage of the opportunity if you are fortunate enough to have it!"
Thank you Dr. Kevin Yeager for your unwavering support of undergraduate research at the University of Kentucky. We are pleased to recognize your dedication this week as our Research Faculty Mentor of the Week.