Oliver recognized for excellence in undergraduate research mentoring

December 15, 2021

Gretchen Oliver in foreground with two students in backgroundWhile Gretchen Oliver is known both nationally and internationally as the leading researcher in softball pitching and injury prevention, the work she does with her students earned her Auburn University’s Provost Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring.

Oliver, a professor in the College of Education’s School of Kinesiology, has mentored more than 70 students in the past six years in her Sports Medicine and Movement Lab, giving them high-quality research experiences to propel them to future success in graduate and professional schools.

Regan Shaw, a 2020 graduate of Auburn University, worked in Oliver’s lab from August 2017 to May 2020.

“Dr. Oliver cultivates a wonderful learning environment in her lab that challenges all of her
undergraduate students to excel,” Shaw said. “She is very invested in all of her students and always pushed us to further our research in the lab each semester. She is hands-on with her mentoring and is extremely patient. Dr. Oliver is with us every step of the way, whether it is asking leading questions to guide us on the right track in our research, helping us learn to analyze our data, or reviewing every detail in a paper or poster for presentation.”

Both former and current students widely recognize Oliver for her focus on helping them to develop analytical and problem-solving skills and to build perseverance in overcoming challenges. Oliver has successfully integrated research in the Sports Medicine and Movement Lab and provided critical entry points for undergraduate researchers, demonstrating the importance of undergraduate research as a high-impact practice. These opportunities ensure students feel part of a research team and allow them to build credentials and expertise.

Former student Gabby Gilmer said Oliver taught her how to conduct, present and write about research.

“During my time at Auburn, I published four first authored manuscripts and 11 non-first authored manuscripts, presented at 14 different conferences, and won three awards for presentations. Because of my training, I was able to independently design, execute and write my honors thesis,” Gilmer said.

The number of co-authored peer-reviewed student publications (23), presentations (82) and achievements before and after graduation speak to Oliver’s sustained efforts to provide high-quality student mentoring throughout the research process.

Oliver said the root of her mentoring philosophy is derived from her life’s motto, “Be Better Tomorrow.”

Softball player swinging bat in foreground with gretchen oliver and student in background

“The caveat of ‘Be Better Tomorrow’ is that ‘I Did My Best Today’ – thus, I am always striving to be even better tomorrow,” she explained. “My approach to student mentoring is no different. My goal every day is to be better than I was yesterday. Me being better tomorrow is in all facets of life from personal to professional, including my research focus and my ability to mentor my students in their research focus. I want my students to gain more from the research experience today than they did yesterday.”

Recognized by School of Kinesiology Director Mary Rudisill as a strong mentor whose work results in incredible outcomes, Oliver gives students the opportunity to learn how research informs practice.

“Oliver is recognized as one of the foremost authorities of upper extremity motion in the world,” Rudisill said. “She attributes her success to having a reliable team of student researchers who assist her. Over the years, her research team has had an enormous impact on how athletes and soldiers train and perform. Dr. Oliver has been invited to present her research around the globe and has also been invited to work with teams of orthopedic physicians/surgeons about implications of her research
as it applies to the practical world.”

Established in 2012, the Provost Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring recognizes faculty who demonstrate a strong commitment to undergraduate research, whose efforts support Auburn students interested in careers in research and creative works and who have shown outstanding services to students.

Miranda Nobles