May 19, 2010
Stokes Had Winning Link With Mentor
When Darrell Stokes joined the Emory biology faculty 37 years ago, the medieval historian George Cuttino took him under his wing. "He was a wonderful person, and brought out the best in other people," Stokes recalls of his late friend and mentor. "He shepherded me through my early years here, getting me involved, and showing me that you could have a research career and still be a great teacher. He helped me become a complete faculty member, and not just someone isolated in a lab."
That made winning the 2010 George P. Cuttino Award for Excellence in Mentoring all the sweeter for Stokes, professor and director of undergraduate studies for biology. For more than three decades, Stokes did groundbreaking research into the structural, biochemical and biophysical properties of muscles, always involving students in the work of his lab.
The spirit of the many happy discussions that Stokes had with Cuttino live on, in the conversations Stokes enjoys with his students. "My view is that students already know a lot," Stokes says. "My role as a mentor is to help them realize all that they know, and to discover who they really are. I guide them as they build a scaffold, a place to put all of their knowledge and choices, to see how it can all fit together."
His love of teaching also fills his spare time. During school breaks, Stokes travels to a village in Ecuador, where he volunteers in a program that encourages young kids to stay in school.
Mentoring has its costs, admits Stokes. "The price you pay is that you get attached. Students have power over you that you don't realize until it's time to separate," he says. "That makes Commencement bittersweet."
Just then, graduating senior Paul Evans popped in to see Stokes, cradling a puppy that he's just adopted from the pound. Evans introduces his new dog, named Madden.
"If I ever need anything, I know that I can call Dr. Stokes," Evans says. "We'd both walk to the ends of the Earth for each other."
Madden rests with calm assurance next to Evans. Although just a puppy, he clearly senses his great luck at finding a true, lifelong friend.