Skip to main content

Zizzi named recipient of 2024 WVU Distinction in Graduate Research Mentoring Award


Sam Zizzi, Pat Fehl Endowed Professor in the College of Applied Human Sciences, has been named the recipient of the 2024 Faculty Award for Distinction in Graduate Research Mentoring.

Sponsored by the Office of Graduate Education and Life, the award was created in the 2018-19 academic year to honor faculty who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the mentorship of graduate students. 

“The criteria for this award included 12 examples of how one might be an excellent mentor,” said Micalyn Stump, program director for graduate academic affairs in the Office of Graduate Education and Life. “All semifinalists had proven track records as exceptional mentors. What set Zizzi apart was his creativity to help his students navigate research challenges coupled with an ability to build lifelong relationships through compassion, empathy, guidance.” 

Over the past 12 years, many students and colleagues have applied Zizzi’s “Research Mountain” metaphor to help them on their research journey, posting their progress from base camp, literature forest, proposal mountain, committee pass, the IRB icefall, the ice fields of data collection, analysis hill, and defense peak. The creative approach has helped make each stage of the process manageable while showcasing their work along the way. 

In his career, Zizzi has advised 32 completed PhD students since arriving at WVU in 2001 as a tenure-track assistant professor. Beyond the 32 chaired projects, he has served on another 50 graduate committees at WVU and other institutions across the country. 

“The opportunity to serve as a mentor to our graduate students in the Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology program is the single best part of my job,” Zizzi said. “As faculty, we are fortunate to work with world-class students and we get an opportunity to impact the trajectory of their careers into academia or applied work. It is a great honor to be able to help my students develop the skills they need to succeed.”

His philosophy to graduate mentoring is rooted in mindfulness and compassion. He tailors his approach with each student based on listening to their needs, goals and mentorship structure. 

Zizzi explained, “It is within this collaborative, compassionate environment that studies are born, conceptual models are drawn, and motivational mantras emerge. Once I get out of the way, the good stuff happens on its own.

According to his former students and current colleagues, this approach works.

One former student said, “Dr. Zizzi did an outstanding job in promoting my autonomy, which increased my confidence as an emerging researcher. He provided me with excellent guidance on research planning, which allowed me to independently execute a research plan and experience increased confidence upon successful completion. Seeing how much he cared about me and his genuine belief in my success strengthened my own belief in myself.”

Another former student emphasized Zizzi’s strength in building life-long relationships with his students, “None of his mentees are left behind and he makes it a commitment to ensure that students find their own fit in the job market, while giving his full support and career counseling. I know for a fact that the track record of his advisees at finding their paths and securing jobs upon graduation is no less than 100 percent.”

One of his colleagues helped illustrate Zizzi’s mentorship style.

“His office door is open regularly with music playing and coffee brewing. Students are welcomed to stop by for conversation and mentorship daily. What I appreciate most about Dr. Zizzi’s interaction with students is that despite balancing the rigorous, and often stressful, demands of being a productive full-time faculty member and endowed professor, he still manages to be fully present and attentive when he is with his students.”

The Distinction in Graduate Research Mentoring Award, which the University awards annually, requires nomination from current and former graduate students, faculty or staff. 

The selection committee reviews nominations and solicits a full application from semifinalists. Finalists are identified from the following disciplinary categories: Physical Sciences and Technology, Behavioral and Social Sciences, Biosciences and Health Sciences, and Humanities and the Arts.

The 2024 finalists included:

  • Joe Moritz, Animal and Nutritional Sciences, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
  • Nasser Nasrabadi, Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
  • Ana Claudia Sant’Anna, Division of Resource Economics and Management, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
  • Tatiana Trejos, Forensic and Investigative Science, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

Zizzi will receive a $2,500 honorarium and was recently honored by President E. Gordon Gee and Provost Maryanne Reed at the annual Faculty and Staff Awards Celebration in April.

 Sam Zizzi