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Justin Jaworski - 2008 Student Dean's Mentoring Award Winnner

Justin JaworskiJustin Jaworski exemplifies the common belief that music and mathematics are not as distinct as they might appear on the surface.

The fourth-year graduate student whose interests lie in studying the phenomenon of flutter in flexible objects such as airplane wings or bridges is also a consummate singer, having spent his undergraduate and graduate years singing with Chapel Choir, the Vespers Choir and the Duke University Chorale.

“Music is a great combination of math and creativity, the analytical and the aesthetic,” he said. “The reason I first came to Duke as an undergraduate was my huge interest in math and science, as well as in music. I can do both here – in balance.”

He is also the recipient of the 2008 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring, which recognizes “the considerable efforts and accomplishments of graduate students who consistently serve as effective mentors.”

Jaworski’s initial experience with the role of a mentor occurred while he was a Pratt undergrad, and then a Pratt Undergraduate Fellow, working in the lab of Earl Dowell. Though he didn’t fully realize it at the time, Jaworski said, Dowell facilitated his success in engineering school.

A key element was networking, a modestly acknowledged but important part of mentoring,” Jaworski said. “There were many things Earl did to ensure a smooth transition for me that I now understand he did without my conscious knowledge. For example, whenever I travelled, he always made sure I talked to the right person or made the right contact.

“He always spoke to me, and other students, as peers,” Jaworski, a Tampa Bay native, added.

After graduating, he had a brief sabbatical at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but returned to Duke mainly because of Dowell and his research opportunities. He hopes that what made Dowell a good mentor for him and others has rubbed off on him.

“I really enjoy working with undergraduates and grad students on their research projects,” Jaworski said. “Even more, I enjoy the interactions that go beyond just the research – especially helping students prepare for the next stage of their careers, whether it’s graduate school or somewhere else.

“I know that I would eventually like to teach, so I value the opportunities to serve as a mentor to others,” Jaworski said. “It gives me the chance to interact with students, to come up with new ways to teach a particular concept, and to help guide the research project of someone else.”

Last summer, Jaworski won a $5,000 North Carolina Space grant to study alternatives to batteries as a source of electricity. One of the students working on the project was Will Gardner, a junior in mechanical engineering and materials science.

“Justin has always been very approachable and accessible,” Gardner said. “He works hard. I’m not the only student who works with him – others have had the same experience. He’s the kind of guy that you can discuss the technical aspects of some problem in one moment, and then go out and have a beer the next.”

Jaworski, as well as winners of other Dean’s Awards, will be formally honored during a ceremony April 22.