AUBURN, Ala.—Leonardo De La Fuente, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology at Auburn University, is one of two recipients of the 2015-16 Provost’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship. He was selected for the honor in recognition of his sustained efforts to promote the intellectual and professional development of students through research mentoring.
De La Fuente joined the Auburn faculty in 2008 as an assistant professor of plant pathology and began mentoring undergraduate researchers the following year, even though his department has no undergraduate program. To date, he has mentored 28 Auburn undergraduates enrolled in the colleges of Sciences and Mathematics, Human Sciences and Engineering and one student from Alabama State University.
De La Fuente’s research program involves interactions between plant-pathogenic bacteria and host plants, and he actively involves his research apprentices in the scientific process. That is evidenced by their scholarly output, which includes co-authoring with De La Fuente four peer-reviewed journal articles and 28 conference presentations.
As an undergraduate at Uruguay’s University of the Republic in the 1990s, De La Fuente had the opportunity to work as a student researcher, an experience that convinced him to pursue a career as a research scientist. He said he hopes to instill that aspiration in his students.
“Engaging students in research as undergraduates helps them assimilate and understand the concepts they are learning in their class lectures and lab,” he said. “I see undergraduates as future colleagues, so I train them with the same respect and rigor of graduate students.”
While he is honored by his selection as outstanding research mentor, De La Fuente said he doesn’t do what he does for recognition.
“Working with the undergrads has been and is a privilege,” he said. “It is enough reward by itself.”
De La Fuente and chemical engineering assistant professor Elizabeth Lipke, the other 2015-16 mentoring award recipient, will be formally recognized this fall during the provost’s faculty awards ceremony.
The Provost’s Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship was established in 2010 to honor faculty members committed to undergraduate scholarship and creative work outside the classroom.