David Straney, associate professor in the University of Maryland’s Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, received the Provost’s Academic Advisor of the Year award at a campus ceremony in August 2023. Three academic advisors receive this annual university-wide award, which comes with a $1,000 prize and an engraved plaque.
Straney was recognized for his tireless efforts in fostering a warm and inclusive environment for students, as well as his dedication to helping students succeed in the biological sciences major. He has served as associate chair of undergraduate programs in the department for 17 years.
“David has truly been a pillar of the advising community in the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences,” said Stacia Woycheck, assistant dean of student services. “For nearly 20 years, he has greeted new students with excitement while supporting them through their first and oftentimes nerve-wracking first college experience. David provides students with advice on success in college while sharing his own story for freshmen to learn from.”
Straney has been supporting students since he joined the UMD faculty as an assistant professor in 1989. With research that focuses on gene expression in plant pathogenic fungi, he has taught courses in molecular biology, plant-microbe interactions, and genetics for majors and plant biology for non-majors. Straney said that his role as an instructor brings him closer to students and their effort and challenges to complete their degrees. As an academic advisor, he guides students toward their goals using his extensive institutional knowledge and his experience from teaching required courses.
“I feel honored to receive this award because it really symbolizes the work that we all do to help students succeed,” Straney said. “The good thing about being faculty here at UMD is that we all wear different hats and we can evolve to become something that can make a bigger and more positive impact on students.”
Straney has dedicated his career to serving students’ best interests, guiding them through difficult academic challenges and decision-making. He helps students navigate course conflicts, academic progress, degree requirements and potential career paths as they prepare for graduation. In addition to his work with students, Straney also coordinates with faculty members and administrators to help address and recognize pressing student problems, including the need for additional class sections so students complete their requirements on time.
Associate Professor of Entomology David Hawthorne, who nominated Straney for this award, said that Straney’s impact will be felt for years to come.
“David has a great combination of possessing an incredible knowledge base while being the nicest and most empathetic person,” Hawthorne said. “When I first started my role as an advisor, he really took me under his wing and walked me through the processes. He knows the rules so well that he can help anyone navigate through the intricate spider web that makes up academia.”
Looking back at his years at UMD, Straney believes that the best part of being a faculty is working with students and understanding their problems more multi-dimensionally. He makes it a point to know his students personally and understand their interests. From welcoming new students at orientation to guiding seniors to post-graduation employment and graduate programs, Straney is committed to making a difference.
“Just being able to see students grow and helping them reach their goals is very fulfilling,” he said. “It’s very different from interacting with students in a classroom, where they might feel like they’re being evaluated by a scrutinizing professor. As an advisor, I’m helping students set goals and figure out how to achieve them, just supporting them through their journey—without judgment or pressure.”