DURHAM, N.C. – Dalia Patiño-Echeverri, Gendell Family Associate Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Division, is the inaugural recipient of the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Norm Christensen Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring Doctoral Students.

The award was created to celebrate and honor the exemplary mentoring that lies at the core of the school’s doctoral programs.

It particularly recognizes the use of culturally inclusive mentoring practices, the commitment to advancing students’ long-term professional development, and the creation of a supportive environment by fostering mutual respect.

The award is named in honor of the Nicholas School’s founding dean, Norm Christensen, now a professor emeritus, who was legendary for his commitment to mentoring students.

“Mentoring is not about teaching,” he said. “It is, first and foremost, about listening; listening very carefully. It’s about understanding the goals and aspirations of your mentee as well as their context and constraints. It’s not telling someone how to get to a destination; it’s about helping them discover the route.”   

The Christensen Award is one of two created by the Nicholas School this year—one for faculty, one for staff—to recognize excellence in mentoring.

In nominating Patiño-Echeverri for the award, students noted that she “provided exceptional guidance, support, and encouragement” and worked tirelessly to help students get the material resources they needed to advance their doctoral research and attend conference and workshops. They also noted her exceptional “integrity and involvement with her community,” while working collaboratively to help students “overcome obstacles and achieve success.”