Mentoring Makes a Better World

Mentoring Makes a Better World

By Diane Ballard

Ann Draughon’s career has included many firsts, but she says the most important thing she has done is prepare women and minorities for careers in food microbiology.

Draughon (Knoxville ’73, ’76), UT professor of food science and technology, received the 2007 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in recognition of training more than 50 Ph.D. and master’s students—half of them female, seven African American, and three Hispanic.

“I truly believe what we accomplish as individuals is much less important than the accomplishments of those we train and mentor,” says ­Draughon, the first UT faculty member ever to receive the award. “Mentoring is a gift to myself, but more important, it paves the way to the future.”

Some of her former students nominated her for the award, but ­Draughon says the students are the true award-winners, having completed their Ph.D. degrees and earned honors and responsible professional positions.

  • Dr. Kim Lamar is the first black female to win the developing scientist award of the International Association for Food Protection.
  • Dr. Valerie Ling works at McKee Foods in Collegedale, Tennessee.
  • Dr. Carolina Naar is the director of food safety and quality control with Pepsico in Las Vegas.
  • Dr. Jennifer Richards directs UT’s Food Safety in the Classroom Project.

Draughon, a member of the UT faculty since 1979, was only the second female faculty member ever hired by the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. She achieved the rank of professor in just 10 years. In 1995 she served as the first female president of the International Association for Food Protection. She is an expert in food-borne illness. In 2000 she was appointed co-director of the UT Food Safety Center of Excellence, and she is past chair of the National Alliance for Food Safety and Security.

Draughon says she knows the value of mentoring because she benefited from it herself.

“All of my most cherished mentors are now deceased, but as long as I live they will never be forgotten: Ms. Sarah Robinson, the teacher of the one-room school that I attended from first through sixth grade, who encouraged me to dream beyond marriage and the coal fields of West Virginia; Dr. Orvin Mundt, professor of microbiology at UT, who hired me to work in his laboratory during my undergraduate days as a microbiology major and taught me to love scientific inquiry as much as he did; Dr. John Ayres, professor of food microbiology at the University of Georgia and my Ph.D. adviser, who taught me what it takes to be successful in our chosen profession.”

The winners of the Presidential Award were honored in Washington, D.C., where they met President Bush, who gave them a personal tour of the Oval Office. Draughon says the experience was “one of the most special days of my life.” But she wished her students could have shared it.

“I felt privileged and humbled and very happy to be a part of this group of individuals whom I admire greatly—each of them trying to make the world a better place through their mentoring activities. I regret that the young women who nominated me and made this ­possible could not be there also.”