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Frontiers
Presidential Award Recognizes Importance of Mentoring

April 1997

For physicist Diola Bagayoko of Southern University, mentoring means spending time meeting with students--a lot of time.

Bagayoko attends weekly gatherings of his Timbuktu Academy students (undergraduates interested in science, math and engineering), reviews financial aid options and research developments with his advisees, goes over class work with whoever asks, and answers e-mail. The conferences never stop.

"I'm conversing with my mentees 24 hours a day, seven days a week, "he says.

Last fall, Bagayoko's efforts were noticed as he became one of the first 16 recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. The award will be administered annually by NSF and includes a $10,000 grant.

"These awardees will serve as examples to their colleagues," said John H. Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, "and will be leaders in the national effort to train the next century's scientists, mathematicians and engineers."

The award highlights individuals and institutions that are providing outstanding mentoring efforts or programs which enhance the participation of underrepresented groups in these fields.

For Bagayoko, the award is a way for the rest of the academic community to pay attention to what he's known all along. "Mentoring is a critical factor in the learning process," he says.

His definition of mentoring includes many elements, all of which take time. "Mentoring means to listen, to inform, to support-financially and otherwise, to guide, when necessary to challenge, and of course to monitor."

But with the award and the success of his academy, Southern University has decided it is time well spent. The school has begun to formally recognize the importance of mentoring, Bagayoko says, citing the fact that mentoring is now listed as one of the criteria for a merit raise.

For co-winner Janet Herman, an environmental scientist at the University of Virginia, the award has meant more acceptance around campus. Herman's mentoring activities include guiding graduate students in the study of groundwater contamination; developing instructional tools for primary schools; making guest appearances in elementary school classrooms; organizing research discussion groups of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students; and writing grant proposals to keep the graduate students funded.

Before receiving the NSF/Presidential Award, Herman says, she was sometimes criticized for spending too much time with students and not enough time on independent research.

"This award has been very nice in that it forces [those critical members of the faculty] to think about the value the scientific community, as a whole, places on mentoring. Those people had to rethink their positions."

THE 1996 RECIPIENTS OF THE PRESIDENTIAL AWARDS FOR EXCELLENCE IN SCIENCE, MATHEMATICS AND ENGINEERING MENTORING

Individuals:

Martha Absher, director, NSF Engineering Research Center for Emerging Cardiovascular Technologies, Duke University.

Howard Adams, director, National Institute on Mentoring, Georgia Institute of Technology.

Diola Bagayoko, professor of physics, Southern University.

Joaquin Bustoz, professor of mathematics, Arizona State University.

Carlos Gutierrez, professor of chemistry, California State University.

Janet Herman, associate professor of environmental sciences, University of Virginia.

Susan Lasser, director, Programs for Educational Enrichment and Retention, Clemson University.

Melvin Robin, teacher, Science High School, Newark, N.J.

Walter Smith, professor of science education, University of Akron.

Richard Tapia, professor of mathematics, Rice University.

Institutions:

Double Discovery Center, Columbia University; New York, N.Y.

National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, Inc.; New York, N.Y.

New Mexico Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement; Albuquerque, N.M.

Oregon Graduate Institute of Science & Technology; Portland, Ore.

University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Baltimore, Md.

Women in Science Project, Dartmouth College; Hanover, N.H.

 


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