The Mechanicks of Mentoring
As a first-year medical student at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in Manhattan, Aaron Weiss hit the academic jackpot when nationally recognized endocrinologist Jeffrey Mechanick, B.S. ’81, zoology; M.D. ’85, Mount Sinai, took Weiss under his wing to mentor him.
Now a resident in cardiothoracic surgery, Weiss says, “Dr. Mechanick has been the most influential person I’ve encountered in getting to where I am now. He gave me so many opportunities to do so much.”
As director of metabolic support and clinical professor of medicine at Mount Sinai, author of six books and more than 200 journal articles, the former president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Science Board, Mechanick is the perfect mentor.
Mentoring students like Weiss, who shares his intense drive to learn, has brought Mechanick full circle to his own experiences as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland. When Mechanick was a student, he took risks when it came to what and how he wanted to learn. In his sophomore year as a pre-med student, when getting A’s was a priority, Mechanick took a Ph.D. level course in the philosophy of mathematics without completing any of the prerequisites. Despite warnings by the professor—who thought he was in the class by mistake—he earned an A. “I go as fast as I can and circumvent the rules to learn as much as I can,” says Mechanick. Later, during his junior and senior years, Mechanick conducted endocrinology research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine that resulted in a paper published in the Journal of Neural Transmission.
He credits mentoring by UMD professors, including biology faculty members William J. Higgins and Howard Brinkley, as one of the most important factors in fueling his fire to learn. “The University of Maryland was a place that said, ‘Here’s someone who wants to learn, let’s help.’ There was a strong belief in mentorship to advocate and facilitate learning,” recalls Mechanick.
Even before they reconnected several years ago, Higgins remembered Mechanick clearly. “He’s one of the few undergrads whose conversations about science I still remember,” Higgins says. “Jeff has a good time intellectually, and he’s so enthusiastic about everything.”
Mechanick remains enthusiastic about UMD. He serves on the college’s Board of Visitors, is active with the Joint Quantum Institute and supports the William J. Higgins Distinguished Scholar-Teacher Fund that honors his mentor. “I look to enrich people,” Mechanick says. “I think I can speak for many alumni that we want to be engaged.”
In his current role, Mechanick says, “I characterize much of my career here at Mt. Sinai as finding mentees. I learned many of these mentoring skills as a mentee at Maryland, and so the cycle goes on.”
That cycle will likely continue for another generation, says Weiss. “When I have more experience, I would be thrilled to do half as much for someone as Dr. Mechanick has done for me.”
Writer: Ellen Ternes