Computer Science Professor Honored with Engineering Division Mentor Award

A professor teaching a class
Professor Theresa Migler, center, teaches a lesson in algorithms with computer science students.

Cal Poly Computer Science Assistant Professor Theresa Migler was honored with the Engineering Division Mentor Award for fostering enriching research-based relationships with undergraduate students.

Twice a year, the Council of Undergraduate Research gives out awards to outstanding faculty members in engineering whose mentoring has influenced undergraduate research.

“I am so fortunate to be at Cal Poly and work with these incredible students,” Migler shared.

The enthusiastic educator advises groups of undergraduates on their research goals, with topics ranging from health trends in social networks to interpersonal trends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Instead of jumping right into research, I prepare reading materials for the students for the first quarter so they can find out what they are interested in,” she said. “After that, the students choose which research direction they want to go in.”

Migler has roots at Cal Poly, graduating with a bachelor’s in mathematics and a minor in philosophy in 2004 and a master’s in mathematics in 2006.

“I had a feeling I would want to eventually be a professor and thought that education was the path for me, so I stayed at Cal Poly to get a master’s degree,” she shared.

While working toward a Ph.D., one of Migler’s professors guided her to focus her research on computer science, specifically graph theory. This piqued her interest, influencing her decision to teach computer science at Cal Poly.

Throughout her tenure mentoring undergraduate students, Migler has been an advocate for breaking the social barriers between faculty and students, especially when it comes to understanding mental health.

“I always start by checking in with the students and asking them how they’re doing,” Migler said. “They are humans first and project partners second.”

The computer science professor also opens up research topics to the undergraduates so they can focus on what they are most passionate about.

“It’s important not to have a fixed topic in mind and to let the students focus on what they are interested in,” she shared.

Migler’s mindset of fostering human-focused relationships between students and faculty is one of the reasons her students and her fellow faculty members nominated her for the Engineering Division Mentor Award.

“Dr. Migler’s work with undergraduate student research exemplifies the Cal Poly Learn by Doing approach and the lasting benefits of this high-impact practice on our students graduating with degrees in the College of Engineering,” said Dr. Dawn Neill, interim vice president of research at Cal Poly.

Migler continuously expresses her appreciation for the faculty and students she works with at Cal Poly.

“I am lucky to have such supportive students and faculty and to be surrounded by people who want to build everybody up,” she said.

Professor Theresa Migler, center, with computer science students in her class on algorithms.

About the Council on Undergraduate Research

Cal Poly is an enhanced institutional member of the Council on Undergraduate Research, which provides support and professional development opportunities for faculty, staff, administrators and students to promote high-quality mentored undergraduate research, scholarship and creative inquiry. Cal Poly’s membership status means that individual memberships are free for all members of the Cal Poly community. Individual memberships can be activated here.  

By Taylor Villanueva