Kirk Ziegler, Ph.D. receives top honors from UF

Championing Excellence: Kirk Ziegler, Ph.D. Honored for Transformative Mentorship in Chemical Engineering 

Kirk Ziegler, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, has been selected as a Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering Doctoral Dissertation Advisor/Mentoring Awardee for the academic year 2023-2024 in recognition of his excellence, innovation, and effectiveness in doctoral student advising and mentoring. Additionally, he received the university-level award from President Sasse on April 29, 2024. This was not the first time Zeigler received these honors. In 2016-2016, he received the same award at both the college and university levels. 

Ziegler’s career at the University of Florida began in Fall 2005, and since then, he has supervised the research of 71 graduate students, including the chair or co-chair of 19 Ph.D. graduates, chair of three master’s graduates, and an additional 49 master’s non-thesis students. His current research group consists of three Ph.D. and two master’s students. Many of his former students are now professors at universities, and several wrote letters of recommendation and recounted their experiences with him, as part of his nomination for the award.

Although Ziegler acknowledges that each student may require a slightly different style of mentorship, he follows some basic tenets starting with establishing a holistic learning experience for them depending on their long-term goals. For example, if their goal is an academic position, he has them focus on hypothesis-driven research with an emphasis on writing proposals and allowing them time to teach in the classroom. Whereas a student who wants to focus on industrial work may need
mentoring in their leadership and entrepreneurial skills, he explains. 

Providing a nurturing environment is important to Ziegler. If a student has a question, Ziegler doesn’t just answer it. He asks follow-up questions to lead them to the answer. This requires more time, but he explains that this is how students truly learn the material and this technique helps them understand the logic used to solve problems.

Ziegler knows that life happens outside of class, and he knows students sometimes need a safe environment to talk about their struggles. By sharing his experiences with his lab, the students feel more comfortable opening up, and over time, these relationships build to the point where some of his former students “could be considered some of my best friends.”

Empowering leaders is the last area that Ziegler emphasizes with his graduate students. He pushes them to lead projects, allowing his students to gain self-confidence, as well as problem-solving and analyzing skills. He encourages students to focus their projects on topics that excite them while staying in their research.

Ziegler earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. Since joining UF, he has been the recipient of other awards including the Charles A. Stokes Endowed Professorship in Chemical Engineering 2021-2024, the Dow Chemical Group Foundation Professorship in Chemical Engineering in 2018, as well as several UF mentoring and professorship accolades.

Ziegler and his research group focus on nanoporous membranes, carbon nanotube separation, electrochemistry, biomedical sensors and energy storage. According to his lab’s website, “nanotechnology is a new era of technological discovery that is another step towards miniaturization and has the potential to enable critical new inventions in a wide variety of fields including microelectronics, manufacturing, information technology, healthcare, biotechnology, energy and materials science.”

All these shared research projects and goals have led Ziegler to what he says is the best part of his experience – “the continual interaction that I have been able to maintain with my students after they graduate. Many of them continue to engage with our group after graduation – not for the sake of completing work that they were conducting but to ensure that the next generation of students is successful. I have also embraced my role as a lifetime mentor to my former students.”

By: Ada Lang, ChemE Marketing & Communications Specialist