Outstanding faculty are often lauded for their teaching and research, but some have an additional skill that truly enriches the university community.
They are the ones who take the time to teach and mentor not only their students, but also their junior colleagues who are learning to navigate the higher education landscape. To recognize those individuals, NIU has created the Exemplary Faculty Mentoring Award – and has selected Betty La France, who teaches Organizational/Corporate Communication in the Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as the first to receive the award.
“In academe, we always say that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us,” NIU Provost Beth Ingram says. “One of the most significant ways that we lift each other up is through mentorship: lending support to an early-career faculty member by being a good listener, a sounding board and a guide to career development. Betty La France exemplifies those behaviors, and we are proud to honor her as the first recipient of the Exemplary Faculty Mentoring Award.”
Those who wrote in support of LaFrance’s nomination couldn’t agree more.
“Nearly every faculty member in our department seeks Professor La France out for advice and counsel. She is a role model of professionalism, wholeheartedly working on meaningful service, and laughing at work,” says her colleague, Kathryn Kady, in her nomination letter “Her mentorship regarding my research, teaching and service has formed the fabric of my work life since I joined NIU 16 years ago. The positive experience I have had at NIU is in large part due to her.”
Occasionally, LaFrance begins mentoring individuals even before they have joined the faculty. Such was the case with Andrea Guzman, who wrote in support of the nomination. She says that La France took her under her wing when she was still a graduate student at NIU.
“I probably would not be here – or working as a professor anywhere – if it were not for Dr. France. She was one of the professors who encouraged me to pursue a doctorate degree,” Guzman says.
“During our conversations, she also gently inquired about, and offered advice regarding, my work as a teaching assistant and served as a sounding board on how to balance my school obligations with more personal issues,” adds Guzman, who says she strives to apply those lessons to her own interactions with students. “It was not until I began teaching graduate students myself that I realized Dr. La France was modeling how to be a compassionate educator.”
Shupei Yuan, another of the nominators, didn’t encounter La France quite as early, but recalls her being one of the faculty who made her feel most welcome when she arrived in 2017.
“Joining NIU as a freshly graduated Ph.D., I faced a lot of stress and challenges to adjust my role from student to faculty,” Yuan says. “She often stops by my office and opens her door to me whenever I need her. Even during the pandemic, Dr. La France would periodically reach out to me and check how I was doing with teaching, research and other work-related matters. I cannot express enough gratitude for her gesture.”
All of those supporting the nomination wrote glowingly of La France’s willingness to share her professional expertise and of her value as a friend and colleague who has taught them the importance of paying forward their own experiences.
Overall, Dr. La France has been invaluable to my growth as a scholar, educator and community member at NIU,” Guzman says. “Just as important, she has taught me how to be successful in my professional life while also developing a better balance with my personal life.”