November 6, 2009

Mentor program unites VUMC faculty with new students

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Lynette Gillis, M.D., and Vanderbilt junior Matt DeNuzzo talk with incoming students as part of the Vanderbilt Visions program. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Mentor program unites VUMC faculty with new students

Before “one Vanderbilt” became a common phrase on campus, the University's Commons campus area was using the concept to maximize resources available to new students through Vanderbilt Visions and Faculty Associates to the Houses.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center personnel have been increasingly active in the initiative as VUceptors, or volunteer faculty mentors.

Commons administrators say mentorship and faculty-student interaction is at the core of the programs, which helps transition freshmen from high school life to life as a Vanderbilt undergraduate student.

“Vanderbilt is a highly competitive research university, so these programs are social, academic, cognitive and cultural,” said Frank Wcislo, dean of the Commons and associate professor of History. “This is a natural for Medical Center associates. In the clinics at the Medical Center there is teaching between physicians and fellows or residents and teaching between staff and patients. This is an extension of the teaching and mentoring they do every day.”

A number of Medical Center faculty have volunteered to be Faculty Associates of Houses, which entails the faculty member being available to organizers at each House to attend functions with students and to talk on a topic chosen by that House on something of interest to new students.

“Jeff Balser (vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine) came for a talk about health care reform,” said Wcislo.

“He came at the invitation of the Vanderbilt Political Review, an undergraduate group. It was an eye-opening evening. The students saw health care reform from the view of the Medical Center; from the underserved populations seen here to the opportunities that we offer to the health care debate in digital records.”

Lynette Gillis, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics, has been a volunteer faculty mentor, or VUceptor, for the last two years.

“It is a lot of fun. I am interested in helping adolescents with chronic illnesses successfully transition to college and adulthood. VUCept gives me an opportunity to work with and learn from these students in a completely non-clinical setting as they begin their collegiate careers at Vanderbilt.” Gillis said. She finds herself acting as a mentor, an adviser and collaborator as her freshman group identifies projects.

Gillis and 91 other Faculty VUceptors partner with an upperclass student to meet with a group of about 17 freshmen every week for the first 12 weeks of the school year.

“This is the fourth year of the program, and the second year Medical Center faculty have joined in,” said Nina Warnke, executive director of Vanderbilt Visions. “This program gives students access to professional faculty they might otherwise never encounter.”

“To have 13 medical faculty commit to Vanderbilt Visions as VUceptors is a major event in The Commons. They are role models,” said Wcislo.

To learn more about the Vanderbilt Visions program, go to

The following Medical Center faculty and staff are VUceptors this year:
Claudia Andl, Ph.D., assistant professor of Surgery and Cancer Biology
Swati Biswas, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Cancer Biology
Jeff Canter, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of Molecular Physiology and Biology
Todd Doran, associate in Urologic Surgery
James Edwards, Ph.D., research instructor in Clinical Pharmacology
Vernat Exil, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics
Reid Finlayson, M.D., assistant professor of Psychiatry
James Forbes, Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine and Pathology
Lynette Gillis, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics
Joseph Solus, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
Ramprasad Sripada, M.D., associate professor of Clinical Anesthesiology
Megha Talati, Ph.D., research instructor in Medicine
Thomas Yankeelov, Ph.D., assistant professor of Radiology, Physics, Biomedical Engineering and Cancer Biology

Faculty Associates in the Commons from the Medical Center:
Charles Hong, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Cardiovascular Medicine (Crawford House)
Wonder Drake, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine (Gillette House)
Barbara Clinton, director of the Center for Health Services (Murray House)
Richard D'Aquila, M.D., professor of Medicine (North House)
Sten Vermund, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Global Health (North House)
Jo-David Fine, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Medicine (Sutherland House).