Aggie Ingeniero, December 2007

Ricardo_JacquezNMSU civil engineering professor receives Presidential honors

NMSU Civil Engineering Professor Ricardo B. Jacquez was honored at the White House this past week for his work in mentoring science and engineering students. Jacquez received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), a program supported and administered by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The winners of the 2006 competition – comprising 10 individuals and one organization and representing a number of scientific disciplines – were announced at the White House on Nov. 16.

Since 1996, these awards have been made annually to recognize the critical importance of mentors in the academic and personal development of students and colleagues who are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Each year’s awardees add to a widening network of outstanding mentors in the United States, so that tomorrow’s scientists and engineers can better reflect the nation’s diverse population.

“In today’s climate of lower enrollment in STEM disciplines, there is no greater impact on the technological future of this country than retaining freshmen and sophomore STEM majors,” said Jacquez. “An important activity that influences this retention is one-on-one small-group mentoring.”

Awards are made to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding and sustained mentoring and guidance to a significant number of underrepresented students at the K-12, undergraduate, or graduate education level; or organizations that, through their programming, have enabled a substantial number of students who are traditionally underrepresented in the STEM fields to pursue and complete relevant degree programs. Nominations are made by colleagues, administrators and students from the nominee’s organization, which must be eligible to be a NSF award grantee.

Beyond being honored at a White House ceremony, Jacquez and his fellow awardees will each receive a grant of $10,000 to continue and advance their mentoring work. To date, 178 individuals and organizations have been recognized through PAESMEM.

Jacquez has mentored and served as a role model for hundreds of students throughout the state of New Mexico for more than two decades. As Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) director at NMSU, which Jacquez helped to found in 1993, STEM degree awards have increased from 253 in l992-1993 to 580 in 2003-2004. Over the same period, the percentage of baccalaureate degrees awarded to underrepresented students has increased from 24 percent to 42 percent.

New Mexico AMP currently focuses on five core activities:

  1. the freshman seminar SMET 101 (Introduction to Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology) which is the foundation for the Integrated Learning Communities that have increased student retention in engineering from 20 percent to 63 percent for at-risk freshmen,
  2. the undergraduate research assistantship program through which 534 assistantships have been awarded in the past five years,
  3. the annual Student Research Conference giving high school juniors and seniors, along with community college and university students, an opportunity to present their research,
  4. the recently developed Summer Community College Opportunity for Research Experience (SCCORE) program, and
  5. the two-year Bridge to the Doctorate Program, providing financial assistance and mentoring for minority master’s and doctoral students.

“Undergraduates conducting research is the ‘gelling agent’ of an undergraduate education. These students not only apply what they are learning, but they also learn to formulate questions that lead to new discoveries,” Jacquez said. “Mentoring in this context is a balance of nurturing their development while providing authoritative direction. Most important in the process is the observation of the individual student – recognizing who and where they are and what they need.”

Jacquez remembers the role that mentoring took in his own path:  “I remember the day that John Hernandez (emeritus professor of civil engineering) asked me if I’d ever considered graduate school. I hadn’t – but in that single incident he sent the message that I was capable, and I made the decision to follow his example.

Others receiving the Presidential award were: David B. Allison, professor of biostatistics and nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; Juan F. Arratia, director and principal investigator for the Model Institutions for Excellence (MIE) project at Universidad Metropolitana (Puerto Rico); Frances A. Draughon, professor and co-director of the Food Safety Center of Excellence at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture; Jonathan F.K. Earle, associate dean for student affairs and associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Florida; George C. Lee, Samuel Capen Professor of Engineering and former dean of the school of engineering and applied sciences at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York; Saundra Y. McGuire, associate dean for University College at Louisiana State University; Joe Omojola, dean at the College of Science at Southern University of New Orleans; Gayle R. Slaughter, assistant dean for graduate education at Baylor College of Medicine; Judith A. Todd, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Pennsylvania State University; and The Ecological Society of America (ESA), the nation’s leading professional society of ecologists.

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