Educators in Pennsylvania and North Carolina earn top 2004 Mentoring Awards from AAAS

02/03/05

A Bryn Mawr College professor in Pennsylvania and an energetic North Carolina-based engineer this week earned top honors from AAAS, the world's largest general scientific organization, for their tireless efforts to help underrepresented students earn doctoral degrees in the sciences.

Rhonda J. Hughes, the Helen Herrmann Professor of Mathematics at Bryn Mawr College, was named by AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to receive the prestigious 2004 AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award. Hughes has helped 57 women and minority students earn graduate degrees in mathematics, including 17 at the doctoral level.

Jagannathan Sankar, Professor of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering and the Director of the Center for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures (CAMSS) and the Center for Nanoscience and Nanomaterials at North Carolina A&T State University, received the 2004 AAAS Mentor Award. Sankar, who earned his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, was recognized for facilitating or mentoring 46 Ph.D. students, including 22 underrepresented minorities.

2004 LIFETIME MENTOR AWARD

Hughes, winner of the 2004 Lifetime Mentor Award, "is a model teacher, scholar, and mentor who is selfless in her dedication to improving the advancement of young women in mathematics and science," explained Yolanda S. George, deputy director of Education & Human Resources at AAAS. "She works very closely with her students and has been successful in obtaining many grants that were used to promote student research and professional opportunities in mathematics. This has helped students to participate in national meetings, and to present posters and papers."

With her colleague, Sylvia Bozeman of Spelman College, Hughes developed two successful national programs -- the Spelman-Bryn Mawr Summer Mathematics Program and EDGE (Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education: A Transition Program for Women in the Mathematical Sciences) -- to help young women transition from undergraduate, through graduate programs in mathematics. To date, more than 100 young women have been served by the joint Bryn Mawr / Spelman programs, George reported.

The former President of the Association for Women in Mathematics, Hughes maintains an active research program and "has been unrelenting in her efforts on behalf of women, particularly minority women," said Bryn Mawr Provost Ralph Kuncl.

Hughes remains "a passionate advocate for women in mathematics," said Mary Patterson McPherson, Vice President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and President Emeritus of Bryn Mawr College. "She has not only inspired many young women with the courage to take up mathematics seriously, but she has followed closely the fortune of every one of her students through their graduate programs and on into their professional careers." Former student Laura Novak, Ph.D., added that Hughes "is acutely sensitive to the difficulties of graduate school in the mathematical sciences, particularly those encountered by women with liberal arts backgrounds."

Hughes earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement honors members of the Association who have mentored and guided significant numbers of underrepresented students towards a Ph.D. in the sciences, as well as scholarship, activism, and community-building on behalf of underrepresented groups, including: women of all racial or ethnic groups; African American, Native American, and Hispanic men; and people with disabilities. This award often recognizes individuals with 25 or more years of success in mentoring students. The recipient receives $5,000 and a commemorative plaque.

2004 AAAS MENTOR AWARD

Jagannathan Sankar, winner of the 2004 AAAS Mentor Award, "has applied his unbridled enthusiasm, sacrifice and unbounded energy over the past 21 years in developing a high-profile advanced materials research and education program at North Carolina A&T State University," Yolanda S. George of AAAS reported. "This was an uphill task, given that he had to start from an almost non-existent materials research infrastructure."

After establishing the National Science Foundation-funded, multi-million dollar Center for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures (CAMSS), with a sub-center at North Carolina State University in 1997, Sankar then established the Army Center for Nanoscience and Nanomaterials in 2003. A year later, he set up the Center for Multifunctional Materials for Homeland Security for the Navy.

At the same time, George said, "His programs have become a home in the truest sense for the nurturing of high-potential African-American and other underrepresented minority doctoral students." James C. Renick, Chancellor of North Carolina A&T State, said that Sankar "has a phenomenal record of assisting his students in their efforts to present and publish their work."

Sankar's current and former students, like Cynthia Waters, Ph.D., describe him as "a highly energetic person" who inspires everyone around him. William Nelson Martin Jr., Ph.D., said that Sankar helps students imagine a better future. "At my previous school, I was always reminded that I was an African-American from the inner city," Martin said. "Dr. Sankar did not make me feel uncomfortable He just made sure that I knew what I had to do."

The AAAS Mentor Award honors members of the Association who have mentored and guided significant numbers of underrepresented students to earn a Ph.D. in the sciences, as well as scholarship, activism, and community-building on behalf of underrepresented groups, including women of all racial or ethnic groups; African American, Native American, and Hispanic men; and people with disabilities. This award is directed towards individuals in the early or mid-career stage who have mentored students for less than 25 years. The recipient receives $5,000 and a commemorative plaque.

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