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George Shields wins Goldwater mentor award

White man with glasses outdoors, George Shields
George Shields

George Shields has a knack for mentoring. Four students under the chemistry professor’s tutelage have won Fulbright awards and 13 became Goldwater Scholars, including five at Furman University, three of those in 2021.

Now, Shields has been recognized for his mentorship as the recipient of the 2022 Faculty Mentor Award from the Council on Undergraduate Research and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

“The award is just a recognition of the fact that there’ve been lots of good students who’ve come through my lab, who started research early and were able to demonstrate their research aptitude as well as their high grades in order to be competitive for this fellowship,” Shields said.

“George is a remarkable mentor,” said Furman University President Elizabeth Davis. “He guides his students as they develop a deep understanding of the field of chemistry and the nuances of life. He gives them a chance to find themselves and identify future careers in science. Furman is very proud to have him on our faculty.”

Earlier this year Shields published his 100th peer-reviewed scientific paper. In characteristic fashion, six of the co-authors were undergraduates, one is a Furman alumnus and the other is a postdoctoral fellow in Shields’ lab. The co-authors are Shannon Harold ’22, Conor Bready ’24, Leah Juechter ’24, Luke Kurfman ’22, Sara Vanovac ’19, Vance Fowler ’24, Grace Mazaleski ’22 and postdoc Tuguldur Odbadrakh.

At Furman, undergraduates routinely do research. It’s a hallmark of The Furman Advantage. In the summer of 2021, 272 students worked with 104 faculty.

In the chemistry department, Shields said, “We pride ourselves on the fact that we make these opportunities available for students.” Even first-year students have the chance to do research the summer before their sophomore years, which clearly gives them an edge at applying for Goldwater scholarships.

Mentoring takes a lot of work, Shields said. Undergraduates are eager, but they don’t yet have the knowledge. Slowly, as professors teach the students to think through problems, they start to work independently.

“It really is hard work, but the payoff is great,” Shields said. “You see these students who go on and get PhDs and they come back and they tell you about their research and you think, boy that sounds impressive, I wish I understood it better.”

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