Doctoral students receive Graduate School honors for teaching, mentoring

By Jill Pease

Two Ph.D. students in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions were recognized by the UF Graduate School for exceptional contributions to student learning. Rebecca Jane Austin-Datta, a third-year doctoral student in epidemiology, received a Graduate Student Teaching Award, and Karen Awura-Adjoa Ronke Coker, a fourth-year public health doctoral candidate in One Health at the department of environmental and global health, was awarded a Graduate Student Mentor Award.

The awards program recognizes the best, brightest and most industrious of UF’s graduate teaching assistants for their work as instructors in the classroom and laboratory. Austin-Datta and Coker were honored at an awards ceremony held April 6 at Emerson Alumni Hall.

Austin-Datta, Rebecca Jane
Rebecca Jane Austin-Datta

Austin-Datta is in her fifth semester as a UF instructor. She currently teaches online asynchronous courses designed to introduce students to public health. These include the undergraduate course Public Health Concepts and a course for graduate students, Introduction to Public Health.

“I teach because I want to motivate students to go and make a difference,” Austin-Datta said. “I want to give them hope, to confirm they are worthy of great things, to help them see ‘they can do this — excellently.’ It doesn’t matter what the ‘this’ is: if a teacher is well-prepared and well-supported by their administration, they should be able to present a meaningful challenge to students, offer guidance and practice, adjust instruction methods as needed for the current student population (per student feedback), then fade into the background as the student becomes the star.”

Karen Coker
Karen Awura-Adjoa Ronke Coker

Coker is in her second year as a TL1 Predoctoral Fellow supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Science. She mentors several undergraduate students, specifically women of color, who support her as research assistants. They contribute to her research on Black women’s conceptualization of trust and mental wellbeing in their reproductive provider and environment in Alachua County. She takes an intentional approach to listening and devotes time to get to know mentees individually so she can help them accomplish their goals. She also prioritizes mentees’ mental well-being, a commitment that stems from her own experiences navigating academia and daily life.

“Mentoring is a bi-directional experience,” Coker said. “It is a choice and requires intentionality in showing up for your mentees in a safe, encouraging, honest and imperfect capacity.”