Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies in MCB and CPB and MCB Lecturer Dominic Mao has received two accolades for his work advising undergraduates: The 2021 Star Prize for Excellence in Concentration Advising and being voted a “favorite professor” in a Yearbook 385 poll.
Established by alumnus James A. Star (‘83), the Star Family of Prizes celebrates individuals who advise undergraduates at each stage of the college experience. Each year, three recipients are chosen from four categories—including First Year Advising, Second Year Advising, Faculty Advising, and Concentration Advising. Candidates for the prize are nominated by their students, and the final recipients are chosen from a pool of dozens of Harvard faculty, graduate students, and resident tutors.
Yearbook 385 is also an honor determined by undergraduates. Faculty voted “favorite professors” are invited to submit a brief letter that will be included in the yearbook.
“I feel so honored! Being nominated by students is one way for me to know I have had some impact on their lives and that knowledge is the best gift for an educator,” Mao says.
Though these laurels are in recognition of Mao’s advising during an academic year that he often describes as “not ideal,” Mao says that the core of what advisors do remains unchanged. “As a general rule, I like to level with students. For example, when students would ask how things were going, I’d reply ’Not ideal, can’t complain.’ It made many students feel more comfortable to open up about their situations and I was able to advise them better.”
Mao’s students and advisees agree. “As an advisor, Dominic is like a great friend who has a really good sense idea of what kind of experiences might be just what you need and, along with a phenomenal sense of humor, also has an amazing knack for knowing how best to communicate that information in a way that will actually motivate you to do it,” says MCB concentrator Abigail Joseph (‘21). “Dominic has really mastered the type of advising that pushes you to step outside of your comfort zone and in the process drives you closer to discovering unrealized potential.”
“Dominic is one of the most approachable and down-to-Earth advisors I have met at Harvard,” says CPB concentrator Edward Kim (‘21). “When the pandemic hit, Dominic helped us find boxes in response to the sudden move-out, and throughout the pandemic, he has continued to shape our concentration community, virtually. I am really grateful for all that he has done for me and the MCB/CPB concentrations!”
“One of my favorite things about Dominic’s advising is his honesty; he talks to you like an adult and tells you what you should hear, not what you want to hear,” adds MCB concentrator Maya Almoussa (‘21). “His approach helped me make many difficult decisions throughout my time at Harvard with a clearer vision of all the factors involved.”
CPB concentrator Serin Baek (‘21) met Mao during her freshman year at Harvard and has nothing but praise for Mao and his dog Timmy. “My favorite part about having Dominic as my adviser is that our conversations go beyond concentration advising,” Baek says. “During my time at Harvard, he’s truly become a life mentor for me. I’ve been able to talk with him about anything from rock music to what new things his daughters have learned to current personal struggles I’m facing. I won’t forget my sophomore year when I was having a difficult time due to some personal issues related to my summer plans, and Dominic was there for me and helped me make rational decisions that I’m so thankful for today and that have positively impacted me since.”
“Oh, and I almost forgot about his dog, Timmy!” Baek adds. “Dominic and his family adopted Timmy my sophomore year, and Dominic brings Timmy to the concentration office often, especially because Timmy makes so many of the students happy!”
MCB faculty and CPB co-head tutor Rachelle Gaudet says she is “delighted that Dominic’s work is being recognized, and recognized by the students no less!”
“Dominic has worked tirelessly to build a true community of the CPB and MCB concentrations,” Gaudet adds. “This year, he was able to maintain and even grow this community in a remote setting as we welcomed new sophomore concentrators. What I really appreciate from Dominic is that he invests time in the background to develop efficient systems for tracking students and their progress. Although that may seem counterintuitively impersonal at first, these mechanisms free up Dominic’s time to engage with the students one-on-one and in various groups in free-ranging conversations. Dominic really gets to know the students, and helps them define their interests and passions, identify academic and extracurricular resources, and grow through their time at Harvard.”
“Dominic richly deserves this award recognizing his excellence in advising,” agrees CPB co-head tutor Adam Cohen, who is a professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and of Physics. “Academic advisors play such a crucial—but often overlooked—role at Harvard: they can open new academic horizons, connect students to research mentors, and gently warn of treacherous shoals. Dominic is well respected for doing all these things. He gives students straight talk and clear advice, and at the same time helps students flourish as whole people.”
Mao adds that the MCB community has been a boon during these turbulent times. “I will remember our students’ resilience,” he says. “I will remember how understanding and supportive our students and my colleagues have been throughout. I will also remember the shared goal of teaching excellence during our remote teaching workshops last summer; speaking to and learning from faculty across departments, and seeing it all come together during the semester with the help of so many branches of the university was a true demonstration of One Harvard.”