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Wayne State student awarded prestigious NSF graduate research fellowship

April 28, 2011

DETROIT — Keith Zabel, a psychology doctoral student in Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, current resident of Royal Oak, Mich., and formerly of Three Oaks, Mich., has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.

The prestigious award provides three years of support for graduate education to outstanding individuals who have demonstrated their potential for significant achievements in research. The program is focused on ensuring the vitality and diversity of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States.

Zabel plans to study the role of race in mentoring relationships. Research has shown that in both educational and workplace environments, students and employees are more likely to succeed if they have had a mentor. Additional research indicates that whites are more likely to initiate mentoring relationships with white mentors, and less or not at all with black mentors. This same trend holds for blacks in terms of preferring to initiate same-race mentoring relationships. Probable reasons for this may be attraction, similarity or even racial prejudice.

Zabel’s research aims to determine if prejudice toward blacks causes whites to rate black mentors as less effective than white mentors, even when the mentors’ performance is identical. If proven, he will develop a prejudice reducing technique to decrease the effect of the bias.

This research could change the scope of mentoring literature in regards to race, according to Zabel. “For example, one possible reason why protégés have higher objective outcomes with white mentors as opposed to black mentors may be bias against black mentors,” he said. “Specifically, protégé perceptions of low mentor effectiveness when the mentor is black could change the way in which the protégé acts around the mentor. Thus, self-fulfilling prophecies may be a culprit for lower objective outcomes observed from protégés with black mentors as opposed to white mentors.”

“The NSF Research Fellowship is one of the most competitive research awards for students,” said Gloria Heppner, associate vice president for research at WSU. “Nearly 10,000 applications are submitted for this fellowship every year, and only 2,000 awards are made. To receive one means your ideas are highly regarded by the scientific community. This is a great honor for Keith and Wayne State University.”

Zabel is a graduate of Albion College with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in management.

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Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.