TAMU-CC Biology Professor and Assistant Chair Dr. Gregory Buck Wins National Mentoring Award

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – For his unwavering commitment to mentoring undergraduate research students, fostering their development, and providing an equitable learning environment, Dr. Gregory Buck, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Associate Professor of Biology and Biomedical Sciences and Assistant Chair of the Department of Life Sciences, has received the 2023 Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Biology Division Mentor Award, Advanced-Career.

Buck has worked at TAMU-CC since 2001; he was promoted to Assistant Department Chair in 2018 and has served as Biomedical Sciences Program Coordinator since 2013. During this time, he has mentored 91 undergraduate researchers at the Island University and one student at Georgia State University.

As a scientist and researcher, Buck takes pride in his methodical mentoring model he refers to as HITS. First, he Helps the student map out a plan not only for their research but their careers. Next, he guides students to Integrate the Information they learn in his class into what they have learned previously, focusing on critical gaps in their learning to find permanent learning solutions. The third step in the model is for students to Think Critically and analyze the accuracy of what the literature says on their topics of research so they can formulate testable hypotheses. And, finally, the last step is to help his students with what he calls Socialization in Science, or “being a good lab citizen” and collaboration.

“I have used the HITS model to individually guide students in setting realistic goals and to illuminate potential career paths for students they may not have considered,” Buck said. “I am known for employing ‘gentle but tough love,’ giving students what they need to hear, not always what they wish to hear, as that is more ethical in advising.”

Dr. Linda E. Sousse ’04, who is now the Director of Research at the Institute for Extracorporeal Life Support and Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is one former student who is especially thankful for Buck’s guidance, so much so that she nominated him for the CUR award, writing a letter on his behalf. She credits his high level of integrity and honesty in helping students identify the reality of their inherent strengths when applying to graduate programs and deciding how to advance in their careers.

“Dr. Buck was the first person to introduce the concept of graduate school to me and how it complemented my strengths. He was correct: I could not imagine loving any other career as much as I love science,” Sousse said.

Adrian Cebula ’17, who is now a Ph.D. candidate at the Immunology and Microbiology Center for Translational Research at Baylor College of Medicine, was originally thinking about majoring in marine biology as an undergraduate at TAMU-CC. However, after experiencing Buck’s enthusiasm for microbiology and the opportunity to gain experience in the lab environment, Cebula began to envision the potential that Buck could see in her to pursue a career in research. Buck helped Cebula forge a path to majoring in cellular and molecular biology, select electives, and discover graduate programs that were relevant to her interests.

“As the first person in my immediate family to go to college — and for a degree in STEM no less — I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice,” Cebula said. “Little did I know, my decision to meet with Dr. Buck and ask for his advice would set into motion a series of events that led me to where I am today.”

Dr. Cherie McCollough, TAMU-CC Professor and Chair of the Department of Life Sciences, said she values Buck both as a friend and colleague. She describes Buck as smart, empathetic, a great listener, her “go-to” person for advice, and someone with such a great memory that he can remember his students’ names up to 15 years after they have graduated.  

“Frequently you will see a long line of students waiting for Dr. Buck to help them at his office,” McCollough said. “He takes his time with every student, giving them the time that they need to sort out issues related to grades, lectures, future plans and dreams, and most importantly, how to take care of themselves when they are in some sort of turmoil. Dr. Buck is so deserving of this award.”

Buck doesn’t just extend his mentoring to students. Dr. Ioana Pavel, TAMU-CC Professor of Physical Chemistry, was new to the Island University in January 2022 and considers herself fortunate to have had Buck in her corner.

“During my first months at TAMU-CC, he stopped by my office several times,” Pavel said. “He offered valuable, honest advice with respect to many administrative and teaching aspects. I appreciate this very much as it made me feel welcome and it helped ease my transition into the new faculty position.”

On receiving the CUR mentor award, Buck is thankful for the recognition but remains focused on the students he serves and the lives he impacts.

 “It is nice to be validated for what I have been doing for 22 years, but I do not fixate on awards,” Buck said. “I get them, and I accept congratulations, but I move on. Mentoring is training someone to follow in your footsteps. It gives students the capability to be better educated and financed. It also allows them to contribute to their families, Corpus Christi, the State of Texas, the U.S., and the world.”