Tag Archives: Dr. Suma Datta

HUR Staff Spotlight: Dr. Suma Datta

Honors and Undergraduate Research presents Dr. Suma Datta, our Executive Director. Dr. Datta coordinates with colleges, programs and centers across campus to improve existing HUR programming and develop new initiatives, she also serves as the HUR advisor for the Explorations journal and the coordinator for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Scholarship nomination process.

Dr. Suma Datta, Executive Director, Honors and Undergraduate Research

Dr. Suma Datta, Executive Director, Honors and Undergraduate Research

Dr. Datta grew up in Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with Honors degrees in Chemistry and in Cell and Molecular Biology. She participated in undergraduate research all four of her undergraduate years, culminating in a senior honors thesis. While at Michigan Dr. Datta also took on leadership positions with a student organization and organized fund-raising activities for charity.

Dr. Datta was awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship to support her graduate work at the University of California-San Diego in the Department of Biology. Her doctoral thesis focused on understanding how the genes that control the identities of cells are regulated at the molecular level and led to the publication of 5 articles and 3 reviews. Upon receipt of her doctorate, Dr. Datta was awarded a Life Sciences Research Fellowship and moved to Yale University to do postdoctoral research on brain development. During her time at UCSD and Yale, she became a science tutor for high school students and later a mentor and then coordinator of the Academic Mentorship Program in the Sciences.

In 1993 Dr. Datta accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M with a joint appointment in Biology and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1999. She has been awarded an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Fellowship, a Senior Ruth Kirschstein Fellowship and multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and American Heart Association for her work in brain development, stem cell division and prostate cancer progression. She has traveled nationally and internationally to speak about her research, organized workshops and chaired sessions at national and international conferences and reviewed grant proposals for foundations and government agencies and manuscripts for prestigious journals. Dr. Datta has continued her interest in student development and mentoring through organizing alternative careers workshops, participating in TAMU Honors programming, teaching Honors classes, presenting at the Women in Science and Engineering conferences and mentoring over 50 undergraduate researchers in her laboratory.

In 2008 Dr. Datta became the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Research, working closely with students and faculty from all across campus. In this capacity she organized the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, coordinated events for REU directors during the summer, ran workshops and training sessions and published the first issue of Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal. She joined the Council on Undergraduate Research and was elected to a counselor position in the spring of 2010.

In the fall of 2010 Dr. Datta became the first Executive Director of the new Honors and Undergraduate Research unit, combining the former Honors Programs Office and the Office of Undergraduate Research. She and her staff have expanded the Undergraduate Research Scholars program to include Honors students and students from all colleges, established the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors and developed and launched three new Capstone programs (Undergraduate Teacher Scholar, Undergraduate Service Scholar and Undergraduate Leadership Scholar). A new distinction (Honors Fellows) and associated Honors program (University Honors) have been developed and implemented including an application process and a more robust Living Learning Community experience. She has continued to coordinate publication of Explorations, which just released its sixth issue.

In her spare time, Dr. Datta hangs out with her husband Scott and her two “house lions.” She loves to cook and eat food from different cultures, especially if it is spicy. Luckily she and her husband also love to dance. She is the faculty advisor for TAMBDA, the Texas A&M Ballroom Dance Association, and for AggieWesties, the Texas A&M West Coast Swing Dance Club. Most weekends and some week nights she and Scott can be found on a dance floor somewhere.


Piloting the Undergraduate Service Scholars Program

By Hayley Cox

“A capstone is a culminating experience that allows a student to bring the learning and experience of their undergraduate education together to address an issue or question that interests them. While capstone experiences are required for Honors Students, any undergraduate at Texas A&M may apply to these programs” (http://hur.tamu.edu/TAMU-Students/Capstones).

Currently, the capstone programs include Undergraduate Research Scholars, Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, and Undergraduate Service Scholars.  The mission of the Undergraduate Service Scholar Program (USSP) is “to give students an opportunity to integrate classroom education in their major with their career goals and gain a better understanding of the nature of service…” Each Undergraduate Service Scholar is required to develop a project to be carried out over the course of the academic year. Honors students Erica Cottingham and Lauren Simcic are piloting this capstone program with their service projects under the direction of Dr. Sumana Datta.

As Undergraduate Service Scholars, students first identify a need for service in Bryan-College Station and gather volunteers to address that need. Scholars also attend at least one social justice event per semester and write reflection papers on their experiences.

Lauren Simcic, a senior political science and Honors student from San Antonio, Texas, has been involved with Honors since her freshman year. She began her Honors career as secretary for the Lechner-McFadden Hall Council. The senior chose to participate in USSP because of her high school’s heavy emphasis on community service. She had missed volunteering regularly since entering college at Texas A&M.

Simcic’s parents were her inspiration to commit to service, as they always made time in their busy schedules to help those in need. Simcic said, “My father was a successful doctor, but he still made time to volunteer at church. Everyone was worth his time, and he never overlooked ‘the little guy’.” Another reason Simcic continues in service is to honor her father, who passed away six years ago.

The service scholar volunteers at a nursing home, which she has found to be very fulfilling. She said, “When I show up, people say hi to me and hug me. The residents wait eagerly for anyone unfamiliar to walk into the facility because it adds variety to their days.” Simcic hopes to plan a large service event for the end of the spring semester. In the future, she aims to obtain her Masters degree in the Texas A&M University Masters of Urban Planning program.

Simcic encourages students interested in service to choose a need that stimulates their personal interests. She found herself more likely to attend regularly if she loved the work that she was doing. On the other hand, the service scholar recommends that students try to stretch themselves every time they volunteer. Simcic said, “I find that when I encounter a really lonely, discouraged person, the things I used to find ‘gross’ or ‘not my job’ don’t [make me uncomfortable] anymore. I just want to help the person.”

Honors students are encouraged to apply for the Undergraduate Service Scholars Program. Applications will require a two-page proposal and a timeline of activities in late spring or early fall semester. Honors and Undergraduate Research is very excited to continue and expand this new capstone with the help of more students like Lauren!

From Jon to Dr. Jon!

By Hayley Cox

Dr. Jon Kotinek
Dr. Jon Kotinek
University Honors Program Associate Director Jonathan Kotinek has recently become Dr. Kotinek! Kotinek completed the dissertation process in early June, and in August he will be receiving his diploma for his Ph. D. in educational psychology from Texas A&M University. He has been selected for recognition as a Distinguished Honor Graduate for the Department of Educational Psychology.

Kotinek began working in the University Honors Program office in 2003, becoming Assistant Director in 2007 and Associate Director in 2012. He received both a B.A. and M.A. in English from Texas A&M. Since 2007, he has been selected for the President’s Award for Academic Advising, the Diversity Staff Service Award, and the President’s Meritorious Service Award. He was also selected as a Texas A&M Fish Camp namesake.

Jon with the counselors of Camp Kotinek!
Jon with the counselors of Camp Kotinek!

Kotinek had not considered graduate school before his mentor, Dr. Finnie Coleman, encouraged him to do so. Kotinek was an undergraduate student in Dr. Coleman’s Introduction to African American Literature in fall 1999, after which Dr. Coleman encouraged Kotinek to apply to the master’s program in English. Kotinek took time off during his master’s program because he was working full-time, and when he returned his professor for Issues in Child and Adolescent Development, Dr. Joyce Juntune, encouraged him to apply to the doctoral program in educational psychology.

By this time, Kotinek had begun working as a graduate assistant for Dr. Coleman who asked him to assist Dr. Edward Fry in hosting a group visit of Davidson Young Scholars in March 2003. Over the course of these students’ visit, Kotinek saw the frustrations of these young high school students due to the limited opportunities to start college as full-time students. Kotinek said, “This experience really helped to crystallize my desire to study giftedness and how these gifted persons are served by the university.”

Jon with students on an art trip in Houston.
Jon with students on an art trip in Houston. He is also a photographer and painter.

Dr. Kotinek’s graduate dissertation is titled “A Narrative Examination of the Experience of Early Entrance to College,” which is a qualitative study that examines the experiences of eight college graduates who entered college as freshman at age 16. The results of Kotinek’s study suggest that “intellectual ability may be sufficient for early college entrants to complete college, but they might need additional support such as specialized advising, mentors, and peer groups to fully realize their academic potential.” He saw this in the young students’ reliance on figuring problems out on their own and a common decrease in achievement levels in college relative to their achievement levels before college.

Kotinek’s Ph.D. in educational psychology ties well into Honors classes and programs which are a fit for gifted college students, focusing on providing additional challenge and enrichment at Texas A&M. He said, “Gifted college students often have a lot of passion for a particular subject, and Honors provides both a community that understands that kind of intense focus and provides opportunities, like undergraduate research and Honors classes, to pursue their interests in great depth.”

Dr. Kotinek had a difficult doctoral education due to competing priorities such as working full-time, having a family, and being engaged in the community. He said he likes to a lot of advising by “negative example,” and from experience could now tell students to consider pursuing graduate work as a full-time student if possible. He also likes to let people know that “graduate school is one of higher education’s best-kept secrets” due to the different relationship between faculty and student that was not so present in undergraduate education.

Kotinek noted that a lot of people are scared by the prospect of a dissertation. But, he said like any large project this could be managed by breaking it into chunks. According to Kotinek, any question that sparks a person’s interest can be a dissertation topic, and “there is a very real sense of accomplishment in adding to the body of knowledge about a subject.”

Jon also won Best Beard Champion in 2011 and helped start the Aggieland Beard and Mustache Club in 2012!
Jon also won Best Beard Champion in 2011 and helped start the Aggieland Beard and Mustache Club in 2012!
Dr. Kotinek wanted to thank all of his supporters throughout his doctoral process. He said, “I have been blessed by having such a supportive community as I pursued my degree. Everyone in Honors and Undergraduate Research helped by letting me focus on writing this past Spring. Dr. Suma Datta, Dr. Duncan MacKenzie, and our former Associate Director, Dr. Dave Louis, have been especially encouraging as I have worked toward this goal. I have also had wonderful support from my committee members: Dr. Laura Stough, Dr. Joyce Juntune, Dr. Edward Funkhouser, and Prof. Rodney Hill. Thank you to all of these folks and the countless colleagues and students that have offered encouragement and advice though the process.”

Kotinek added, “Mostly I have been trying to get people to just call me ‘Jon’ instead of ‘doctor.’”

The Department of Honors and Undergraduate Research congratulates Jon Kotinek on becoming Dr. Jon, along with all of his outstanding achievements at Texas A&M!