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Diversity Coalition Receives Presidential Award for Mentoring

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs
posted September 16, 1998

At a noontime White House ceremony Sept. 10, President Bill Clinton thanked a group of educators, including two from Berkeley, for their work in mentoring students -- in particular underrepresented students -- in science, math and engineering.

The remarks came at an awards ceremony during which the 1998 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring were handed out. Eight institutions and 10 individuals received mentoring awards.

One recipient was a highly successful Berkeley program -- the Coalition for Excellence and Diversity in Mathematics, Science and Engineering -- which aims to boost the success of women and minorities in science, math and engineering. Historically these groups have been underrepresented in such fields.

Those attending the awards ceremony included Neal Lane, assistant to the President for science and technology policy; Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation; James Riley, Secretary of Education; and Rodney E. Slater, Secretary of Transportation.

The awards were presented at the start of a two-day symposium on mentoring in Washington, D.C.

"Not only those whom you mentor, but those whom they touch will have a broader and more accurate world view for the future," Clinton said in praising the award recipients. "That will make our country a better place."

Accepting the award for Berkeley was Caroline Kane, chair of the coalition and adjunct associate professor of molecular and cell biology, and one of the program's success stories, Michele de Coteau, a recent doctoral graduate from Oxford University.

While a Berkeley undergraduate, de Coteau participated in two programs that are now members of the coalition, the Professional Development Program and the Multicultural Engineering Program. With their help she earned a BS in engineering in 1988, and subsequently spent five years at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and AT&T fellowship. She returned with a D.Phil. under her arm and last month took over as director of one of the programs from which she benefited, the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP).

"These programs meant a great deal to me as an undergraduate," she said. "Cal is a big and overwhelming place, and MEP was a refuge. Without the close friends I made there I never would have heard about the Rhodes Scholarship, much less applied for one."

In a laudatory letter to the coalition, Lane said, "As we approach the 21st century, it is essential that all American students are prepared to meet the scientific and technological challenge of the future. Your extraordinary accomplishments in mentoring students from underrepresented groups exemplify the talent and commitment this program aims to recognize."

"This coalition is unique and valuable on the Berkeley campus, especially given Berkeley's commitment to its diverse student population," said vice chancellor for undergraduate affairs Genaro M. Padilla in a nomination letter. "The members of this coalition work tirelessly, and recognition of their efforts through this presidential award is extremely well deserved."

The coalition was formed in 1992 when seven groups joined forces to work more effectively to retain women and underrepresented minorities who tended to leave these fields at a rate far exceeding that of male white and Asian students. The groups are:

• Biology Scholars Program

• College of Chemistry Scholars Program

• McNair Scholars Program

• Multicultural Engineering Program

• Physics Scholars Program

• Professional Development Program

• Student Learning Center

The programs identify motivated, well-qualified freshmen with an expressed interest in science, mathematics or engineering, many of whom are from groups that often fail to progress beyond the "gateway" math and science courses required for a science or engineering major.

The scholars' programs provide these students with undergraduate mentors as well as faculty and staff role models, who follow them through four years of college. Each year the coalition works with some 400 students, freshmen through seniors, including women and underrepresented minorities.

The National Science Foundation administers the Presidential Awards for Mentoring Program for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The program, instituted in 1996, is designed to recognize the importance of role models and mentoring in the development of talent in science and technology.

Accompanying the award is a $10,000 grant from NSF to improve mentoring activities.


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