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Tim Jacobs wins Outstanding Mentor Award

Tim Jacobs was one surprised post-doctoral fellow when he found out he'd won the College's Outstanding Mentor Award earlier this spring. "I honestly didn't know I'd been nominated," said Jacobs, who will complete his post-doc appointment in August.

tim,Tim Jacobs When asked about his mentoring activities, Jacobs modestly explains that he's simply a "product of the environment." The environment he refers to is the 30-person engine research group in the Lay Automotive Lab, headed by Professor Dennis Assanis. The group is comprised of students, research scientists and research fellows, "which necessarily requires seasoned people to coach and assist the less-seasoned students. So I would try to make myself available as much as possible to answer others' questions, and offer them insight based on my experience," he said.

Being a graduate student is like being part of any other type of work environment, he continued. Colleagues must work closely with each other, and the overall experience is only enhanced when relationships are amiable. "You want to help colleagues out so that they're successful, and in turn they help you out."

But there's a lot more to it for Jacobs, who's generally "not very successful at things" when he tries them for the first time. "I learn a lot from my mistakes," he said. Yet making mistakes isn't the most efficient way to learn, he acknowledges, and so he has a genuine desire for others not to follow in his missteps. "I try to share my experience with others as much as possible so that they don't make the same mistakes. Of course we all learn from our mistakes, but we can also learn from tricks of the trade."

Jacobs has learned a lot of those tricks in his 11-year tenure at U-M, including his undergraduate studies. His work has focused on developing novel modes of combustion that burn cleanly and efficiently in internal combustion engines, specifically on the uses and conversion devices of energy and improving the efficiency and utilization of such devices. The work is funded by General Motors, which has also given him the opportunity to learn from those on the other side of the mentor-protégé relationship.

Jacobs has helped teach ME 235 and ME 438 (thermodynamics and IC engines, respectively), "which have significantly improved my teaching capabilities," he said. He has also been involved in the Class of 31E Scholarship and Scholarship Committee, Rackham Student Government and Tau Beta Pi.

Serving as a mentor to others has taught Jacobs a lot, too, he said. "Like teaching, mentoring gives you an opportunity to really assess what you understand. It gives you the chance to look back and assess what went right--and what went wrong. It gives you an opportunity to fully and thoroughly understand the fundamentals. Mentoring for me gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I did as a researcher and allows me to shape the way I go about things for future projects. I've gained a great deal of insight into science and engineering--and learned a lot about myself--through mentoring activities."

Jacobs will continue his teaching and mentoring activities when he begins a faculty appointment in the Mechanical Engineering department at Texas A & M University this fall.

As he wraps up his work at U-M and looks back on more than a decade of history, Jacobs says he was fortunate to have one of the university's greatest mentors, Professor Assanis. Assanis served as Jacobs' PhD advisor and over the years has taught him many things, including how to handle sensitive situations and motivate others to do their best. "He's a very busy guy, but he always makes it a priority to spend quality time with his students when it really matters. Students leave his office with a sense of confidence and assurance because of the way he mentors them....At the end of the day he is just a natural leader," says Jacobs. "Some times things just have to be had, rather than learned."

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