Professor James Lee sees a transformative potential in undergraduate research. Through the mentoring he has done, Professor Lee has seen students begin to explore topics they are enthusiastic about, only to discover new and previously unknown passions and concerns. He looks for students who ask questions that he cannot answer and pushes them to explore all of the related issues that their questions raise. Through mentoring undergraduates, Professor Lee has formed lasting relationships with his students and continually refreshed his passion for his own work. UROP salutes Professor Lee for the excitement and experience that he shares with the undergraduate researchers he mentors.

1. How did you develop an interest in mentoring undergraduate research or creative projects, and what type of projects have you directed?

My first experience in mentoring was at my first teaching position in Texas. Students had just won a hard-won struggle to get an Asian American Studies major, and one student asked me if she could do an oral history of her grandfather. What unfolded for her was not only her grandfather's specific story but how that story intersected with broader historical trends. She was able to discover in the textures of her grandfather's life his historical significance; he became a historical subject. This inexorably changed the way my student imagined her own life trajectory, and she has committed herself to social justice and service. I saw in this experience the transformative potential of undergraduate research, how it unlocked heretofore unknown, unseen passions and concerns. I continue to mentor projects that run the gamut: theories of Korean American identity, Asian American literature, religion and race.

2. What do you look for and what are your expectations of undergraduates you select to conduct research under your guidance?

I look most of all for students who are looking for something, are compelled to ask questions that stem from class, but whose questions don't quite fit the contours of the class. I look for students who ask questions that I myself have trouble answering. And I expect students to know how to find their way through the library, and have the courage to ask librarians when they don't.

3. Describe your level of engagement and style in mentoring undergraduates.

My style has been called Socratic, though I think this dishonors the great philosopher. I do try very hard to get students to think about the stakes of their research, to take their arguments to their logical limits and to reflect on the implications of those limits.

4. In your experience, how have your students improved or benefited as a result of their undergraduate research experience?

There is no question that student-driven research is the best indicator of long term career and indeed life success for students.

5. What have you learned or benefited from guiding undergraduate research or creative projects?

I have gained a deepened relationship with students, and even more than what they produce in a given research project is the long fetch of their lives, their commitments, their dispositions. I have former students with whom I keep in contacts decades out and am astounded by what they are doing. It's truly humbling and such an honor to witness their profound impact in the world.

6. What recommendations and advice would you give students embarking on undergraduate research or creative projects?

Take at least two classes with a professor before asking her or him to serve as a mentor. Get to know what kinds of questions a professor likes to ask before seeing if your questions resonate with her or him.

Research Interests: Illness and Disability, Contemporary U.S. Literature, Theories of Reading

Faculty Profile:


Past Faculty Mentors of the Month

Dec. '14 Emiliana Borrelli
Nov. '14 Joel Veenstra
Oct. '14 Jonathan Alexander
Sep. '14 Leslie M. Thompson
Aug. '14 Jonathan R.T. Lakey
Jul. '14 Diego Rosso
Jun. '14 James Kyung-Jin Lee
May. '14 Lisa Pearl
Apr. '14 Jayne Elizabeth Lewis
Mar. '14 Donald Jay Patterson
Feb. '14 Dritan Agalliu
Jan. '14 Stephanie Reich