Guiding the Way, One Student at a Time

Issue Date: 
February 1, 2016

Professor Claude Mauk first met the student the summer she toured campus. The high school junior was interested in studying Modern Greek. 

Mauk, a Pitt linguistics professor and director of the Less-Commonly-Taught Languages Center, had a lot to share about how language works and suggestions on classes she might take.

Claude MaukAbout a year later, the student was a freshman in Mauk’s Introduction to Linguistics class. Mauk also became the student’s campus adviser. The more he came to know her, the more he saw her grow in confidence and awareness. She declared linguistics as a major, but the Somerset, Pa., native also tutored kids in a low-income neighborhood close to the University. Mauk saw her awaken to social justice issues and move toward wanting to make a difference beyond simply achieving academic excellence. 

Today, the student has been accepted to Pitt’s School of Social Work and begins graduate study in the fall.

Mauk has taught at Pitt for 12 years and served nine years in his role as undergraduate director of the linguistics department. In that time, he has advised scores of students. In his one-on-one sessions, he’s able to listen to, coach, and counsel students in applying for scholarships, applications to professional school, and preparing for the next phase of life.

Mauk’s efforts have made him the winner of the 2016 Ampco-Pittsburgh Prize for Excellence in Advising. The prize is an annual honor that recognizes outstanding faculty advising for undergraduate students. The prize is also a way to recognize the University’s broader mission to help students find their truest calling and their brightest hopes.

Professor Shelome Gooden, chair of the Department of Linguistics, acknowledges that Mauk “jumped in with both feet” into the role of undergraduate adviser. “He actively engages in educating the ‘whole undergraduate student’ and that is what makes him an excellent mentor.”

His work, she says, has overhauled the linguistics’ undergraduate curriculum, but he also works with linguistics students through their club, Yinzling, where he spends “coffee-hour time” with the students, interacting with them in a comfortable environment.

Mauk’s approach to advising is drawn from an experience he had while a freshman at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. He was struggling with calculus when his mother, a math professor, sat down with him in the family dining room and patiently reviewed the lessons until he was able to master the concepts. 

The dining room sessions gave Mauk a safe space to ask questions and gain the self-assurance he would later carry with him to earn a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin—and build a rewarding research and teaching career in phonetics and American Sign Language. He learned that students need time and attention and that building positive one-on-one mentoring relationships with students works.

He advocates for three goals as an adviser. First, he wants advisers to have continuity with students, advising them from freshman year until they graduate.  Second, he believes advisers should guide students through the classes that strengthen them academically and that aid with specific careers. Third, he thinks it is important for advisers to help students progress to the next phase of their lives, enabling them to become well-rounded adults.

The Ampco-Pittsburgh Prize has been affiliated with Pitt’s Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences for 10 years. The endowment that funds the prize was established by Robert Paul, an emeritus trustee of the University, and is funded through the Fair Oaks Foundation.