The University of Missouri has long been a champion of interdisciplinary collaboration, taking schools of thought from disparate academic fields and combining them in unexpected ways.
Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year recipient Ferris Pfeiffer embraces this philosophy every semester. Pfeiffer, an assistant professor in Biomedical, Biological and Chemical Engineering, teamed up a few years back with Suzanne Burgoyne, an MU Curators’ Professor in Theatre, to incorporate actor-training methods and inspire creativity in engineering students. Through a series of improvisational exercises, students learn to shake up their thinking and break down inhibitions to promote communication.
It’s this enthusiasm for outside-of-the-box education that earned Pfeiffer the award.
“My mentees teach me that I don’t always know as much as I think I know,” said Pfeiffer, laughing. “They teach me by bringing their own experiences. Sometimes they are ahead of where I think they are, and sometimes they’re behind. Most of the time, they’re learning right along with me.”
Muhammad Salim, a Discovery Fellow who began his research career as a freshman in Pfeiffer’s lab, credits his mentor for inspiring him to aim much higher than he thought possible.
“Dr. Pfeiffer encouraged me to submit my abstract to the Orthopaedic Research Society Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the largest orthopaedic conference in America,” wrote Salim in a nomination letter for his mentor. “At the time, I had doubts about my study’s eligibility, especially considering that the conference included physicians, PhD’s and professionals much more experienced than myself.”
Pfeiffer, BS ’03, MS ’04, PhD ’07, conducts his research primarily in biomechanics, specifically with implantable medical devices that relate to joints.
“Mentorship means providing guidance when necessary, letting them go on their own when necessary and trying to understand which of those is required at which time,” Pfeiffer says. “It’s knowing when to hold their hand and when to let them fall.”