Roger Daniels Wins PhD Mentoring Award
Date: July 8, 2002
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Colleen Kelley
As Robert Miller concluded his doctoral studies in history at UC in 1991, he worried that he might lose contact with his favorite professor and doctoral adviser, Roger Daniels.
He soon learned that his fears were nowhere near the truth. At a reception hosted by Daniels and his wife, Judith, immediately after Miller's hooding, Mrs. Daniels "told me that the awarding of this degree would in no way diminish my relationship with her husband," Miller recalls. "She assured me that he would continue to stay in close contact and expect me to do my best," the UC alumnus says. And she was right.
"I have been in frequent contact with him ever since. I used to have lunch with him every other month, but that was before I started working in Dayton," says Miller, an adjunct faculty member at UC and a social studies editor at Mazer Corporation, which develops texts and educational materials for K-12 classrooms. "Now we keep in contact mainly with e-mail."
Such attention from Daniels is not focused solely on Miller. In all, Daniels has served as the dissertation adviser for 18 PhD students in history at UC. The Charles Phelps Taft Professor of History in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences keeps track of almost all of them and their research interests, even after they leave UC. In the days before computers, he wrote them lots of letters. Now he's always e-mailing them with items that are interesting or thought provoking.
Daniels' careful guidance and assistance to his PhD students, both before and after they are hooded, have earned him an award of excellence for mentoring from the university's Division of Research and Advanced Studies. His former students nominated him for the award, with support from his colleagues.
"Besides being an excellent historian and scholar, he is also a very practical mentor," says Kriste Lindenmeyer, associate professor of history at University of Maryland, Baltimore County and a 1991 UC doctoral graduate. "He knows how to push you beyond what you think are your capabilities."
"He helps all his graduate students learn how the academic system works: how to present papers and how to find a job, always making sure to introduce you to contacts," she adds.
Admits Daniels: "If you do it properly, it's a tremendously time-consuming thing."
Lindenmeyer expresses gratitude for the time Daniels has devoted to her. He saw potential within her that even she didn't recognize. As a senior in an undergraduate seminar for history majors taught by Daniels, she was a nontraditional student who had led an unsatisfying 10-year career in business before pursuing her bachelor's degree. She also was the first in her family to graduate from college and had not considered becoming an academic.
"Many professors would have dismissed an academic career for a na´ve returning student with children," she says. But with Professor Daniels' help, "my life took a turn that I would have never envisioned," she says. She was accepted into UC's graduate program in history and eventually landed her first faculty position with his assistance.
Lindenmeyer joined with other Daniels' "alumni" to honor their mentor with a book, or festschrift, in addition to nominating him for UC's 2001-2002 Award for Excellence in Mentoring. She and Andrew Kersten, a UC alumnus who serves on the history faculty at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, edited an anthology of essays produced by several of Daniels' former students. Their tribute, published in 2001, is titled "Politics and Progress: American Society and the State since 1865."
In it, the festschrift authors note: "Daniels spent the major part of his professional life mentoring students to be better writers, thinkers, researchers and teachers. ... Daniels has imparted to us all a love for history and historical methods."
He also engendered in his students a love for good writing, always insisting that they write a book, not just a dissertation. Many of those student books can be seen in the photo at right. A former journalist, Daniels has himself written 14 volumes, mostly on immigration history and Japanese American internment during World War II. His recommendation that students write books saves them years of revision later. It gives them a head start on publishing -- a move that can be helpful to their careers.
Daniels isn't the kind of mentor who tries to remake his students into younger versions of himself, his alumni say. He gives them freedom to pursue their own ideas. "I don't try to make students my clone," Daniels explains. "I certainly will guide students. A lot of what they might be interested in isn't necessarily something that I have an interest in. Only two have written on immigration, which is my specialty."
He currently advises PhD student Kevin Bower, an Indianapolis native, on a dissertation that examines federal programs to aid youths from 1933 to 1943. So far, Bower has two of five planned chapters drafted and meets regularly with Daniels to ask questions. Without the senior faculty member's help, Bower says, "I would be lost."
Because Daniels will be stepping down from teaching this September, Bower represents the last dissertation committee the 75-year-old will chair. Although Daniels is ending a teaching career that brought him to UC in 1976, there is one thing his current and former students know he won't be giving up. Even in retirement, his relationship with them will continue to be nurtured. He will also continue to write, edit and guest lecture.
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