Associate Professor Chaitra Gopalappa of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department has received the ADVANCE Faculty Peer Mentoring Award for the College of Engineering as nominated by MIE Assistant Professor Muge Capan and other colleagues. The award, distributed to each college and the libraries, recognizes the critically important work that faculty members perform in supporting their colleagues’ professional development and success and ensures that the vital work of faculty mentoring is rewarded by ADVANCE and recognized by the university. 

According to the ADVANCE website, “Faculty mentoring can take many different forms. Mentoring relationships can be informal or formal, can occur through workshops or professionalization seminars, or through one-on-one meetings or mutual mentoring groups.” Faculty Peer Mentoring awardees each receive $250, are profiled on the ADVANCE website, and are congratulated during the ADVANCE Annual Distinguished Lecture on March 27th at 4:00 p.m.

As Capan explains in her nomination letter, she met Gopalappa in November of 2021 when Capan was an applicant for an assistant-professor position in the MIE department and Gopalappa was the chair of the faculty search committee. 

Capan recalls that “[Gopalappa’s] clear communication via emails, helpful insights for organizing my trip to Amherst, and particularly the welcoming and supportive conversations during my campus visit made choosing UMass Amherst as my new academic home an easy decision.” 

Capan adds that “Since [I joined] the MIE Department in Fall 2022, Dr. Gopalappa has consistently supported me through formal and informal mentoring as my primary faculty mentor.” The two have met one-on-one regularly, and Gopalappa gave insightful suggestions related to establishing Capan’s research identity, improving her grant-writing skills, giving ideas for her research methodology, and suggesting workshops and seminars for continuous learning.

Capan also says that Gopalappa “introduced me to key researchers with complementary skills and research interests to develop my professional network…Her kind personality and valuable insights have made a significant impact on my feeling of belonging to our department, college, and campus.” 

According to Capan, “In addition to her one-on-one faculty mentoring, Dr. Gopalappa has been actively participating in mutual faculty mentoring to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our department. One example is the mutual-mentoring team project entitled “Women in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering: A Relay Race to Mentorship Success,” which was funded by an ADVANCE mutual-mentoring grant in 2023.”

Capan goes on to explain that “The goal of this mutual-mentoring project is to build a peer-support network and a sense of belonging among the female faculty in the MIE Department. Dr. Gopalappa played a fundamental role in leading the organizational efforts in this project related to off-campus activities, such as hikes, and created a space for meaningful interactions such as discussions where faculty take turns sharing difficulties, while others propose solutions.”

As Capan concludes, “Reflecting on my academic experiences in the past nine years, I can say without any hesitation that Dr. Gopalappa is an extraordinary faculty mentor whose critical work deserves to be recognized by the university. In addition, she has a very kind personality.”

Beyond her faculty mentoring, Gopalappa also engages in student mentoring though her Disease Prediction and Prevention Modeling lab, where she currently supports six grad students and three undergrads. She also has nine graduate “alumni” of her lab and has advised five honors-thesis students, 11 undergraduate independent-study students, and eight undergrads pursuing summer research as independent study.

As Gopalappa says about her lab research, “We develop mathematical and computational models related to disease prediction, prevention, and control analysis to inform public health policy…Our work focusses on issues of equity, access, and justice.” (March 2024)