Dr. Breanne K. Litts named USU Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year
Dr. Breanne K. Litts, an assistant professor in the Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences (ITLS) department and the director of the Learn Explore Design Lab at Utah State University, was recently named Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentor of the Year. This annual, university-wide award recognizes an outstanding faculty mentor of undergraduate researchers.
ITLS department head Andy Walker noted that this award showcases how Litts is “intentionally leveraging her network on behalf of her students.” Litts embodies opportunity for those she mentors; at the awards ceremony, her bio featured the faces of some of the students she is working with. “They are quite literally at the center of this part of her work,” Walker said.
As a first-generation college student, Litts recognized the need to support undergraduates in their research and began to forge connections with them from her very first day at USU in 2016, even before ITLS offered a specific undergraduate program. She recruited undergrads from the courses she taught, as well as from her research with Native American communities such as the Navajo Nation. (Some of this work in undergraduate research was recently highlighted on INSTEAD, a podcast by the USU Office of Research.)
Due to her dedication to undergraduates, Litts has personally mentored students across the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, as well as several other colleges at USU. Her specific mentorship roles have included coordinator for the ITLS multimedia minor and ITLS department honors advisor. She has also had the opportunity to partner with the USU Honors Program and the USU Undergraduate Research program to help make their application and grant processes more accessible and inclusive.
Kenden Quayle, one of Litts’ students, was recently accepted to a graduate program in ITLS. In 2019, she took Litts’ Digital Making and Learning course and was “instantly enthralled.” Quayle said this experience played a major role in her interest in research. “I began attending the Learn Explore Design Lab, which was where I was introduced to the world of research,” she said. “I have always been a lover of design, but it was through working on various projects with Dr. Litts that I found that I could have a research identity.”
Litts is focused on mentoring students in their individualized research trajectories, finding meaningful roles for them within her own projects and supporting them in their independent research. It takes a substantial amount of time to mentor students throughout their individual projects, but it makes a tremendous difference in students’ academic and career trajectories. “Sometimes it takes many years to see the long-term effects of undergraduate mentorship,” said Walker. “It is remarkable that we are already seeing the discernable impact that Dr. Litts is having on many students’ trajectories within the college and at USU more broadly.”
The experiences that Litts offers her students allow them to catch a vision for how they can succeed in graduate school at a time when graduate enrollments are so challenging to maintain. In fact, her mentorships are a primary reason why some students are pursuing graduate degrees.
“Dr. Litts helped set me on my current educational and career trajectory.” said Quayle. “She has been an incredible mentor throughout the past two years.”