UB Chemist Will Receive Prestigious Mentor's Award from AAAS

Colon made UB Department of Chemistry a welcoming place for Hispanics, minorities, one student at a time

Release Date: February 19, 2010

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Chemist Louis Colon will receive the prestigious AAAS Mentor Award for his efforts to guide underrepresented students toward a PhD in the sciences.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Luis A. Colón, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo, is receiving the 2009 AAAS Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science.

Colón will receive the award in recognition of his "deep commitment to advancing diversity in the chemical sciences, leading to an increase in Hispanic American students receiving PhD degrees in chemistry."

The AAAS Mentor Award recognizes individuals who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students (women, minorities and persons with disabilities) toward a PhD in the sciences, as well as their scholarship, activism and community building on behalf of underrepresented groups -- such as women of all racial or ethnic groups, African-American, Native-American and Hispanic men, and people with disabilities -- in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

He will receive the award on Feb. 20 at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Diego; the award includes a monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque and complimentary registration at the meeting.

Colón, a faculty member at UB since 1993, has been deeply engaged in advancing diversity in the chemical sciences at UB. To date, Colón has arranged for Hispanic undergraduates to have a summer research experience in the UB College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry every year since 1997. In the beginning, he used his own resources, supported by some of his National Science Foundation research funding, to bring Hispanic undergraduates to Buffalo from his native Puerto Rico for the summer research experiences.

"Many Hispanic students are strongly encouraged to stay close to family instead of pursuing education and career opportunities away from the comfort of the family," says Colón. Often, even students who excel in science end up taking jobs close to home with no relationship to their scientific interests, he adds.

Through these summer research experiences, Colón provided and facilitated opportunities for Hispanic undergraduates with an interest in science. Part of his goal was to begin to help ease the difficult transition for Puerto Rican students who faced the prospect of attending college or graduate school thousands of miles away from their homes and families.

More than 20 students from Puerto Rico have now attended a UB summer research experience, either with Colón or with other UB Department of Chemistry faculty members who have been inspired by his example. Many of these students have gone on to pursue advanced degrees. The effort Colon initiated was largely responsible for establishing the UB Department of Chemistry NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates in 2005, which was renewed in 2009.

In addition, Colón has mentored 20 additional undergraduate students at UB, many from underrepresented groups, including those with disabilities. Several have gone on to pursue training in science-related fields.

At the graduate level, Colón's efforts also have resulted in dramatic increases in minority representation in UB's Department of Chemistry. Twelve advanced degrees have been conferred to Hispanic students during the past decade, and nine of those were under Colón's direct mentorship. Many of these graduates have gone on to industrial or academic positions in the chemical sciences. Out of his 35 graduate students, doctoral graduates include nine females and four Hispanic males.

Colón, who received his bachelor's degree from the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey and a doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, also has established a "pipeline" between UB and UPR-Cayey, helping to recruit UPR-Cayey graduates into the UB chemistry graduate program.

In 2004, Colón was honored with a Faculty Mentor of the Year Award from the Compact for Faculty Diversity, a national initiative to produce more minority PhDs.

Nationally, Colón has been involved in the American Chemical Society Scholar Program, designed to increase minority participation in the chemical sciences.

At UB, Colón plays a key role in university-wide programs dedicated to increasing underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. He is a member of the advisory committee to the Arthur A. Schomberg Fellowship Program, which supports historically underrepresented students in graduate programs at UB; he also serves as a research mentor for Schomberg Fellows. He has worked with the NSF-SUNY Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and the SUNY Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, which is designed to produce more PhDs among underrepresented groups and to encourage them to seek faculty positions.

After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, Colón did postdoctoral research at Stanford University.

A recipient of the NSF Minority Research Initiation Award and the NSF Award for Special Creativity, he was a Whitaker Foundation Fellow and an inductee into the 2005 Hispanic Scholarship Fund Alumni Hall of Fame.

Colón is an analytical chemist, whose current research focuses on chemical analysis at the micro/nano scales, the development of new materials for chemical separations, environmental chemistry and bioanalytical chemistry, especially developing new methodology to analyze biological samples, such as saliva and tears and their potential use in clinical diagnostics.

He lives in Amherst.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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