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Friday, October 15, 2021

UC Davis professor recognized at White House

President Obama recognized chemistry professor Susan Kauzlarich’s 22-year commitment to serving underrepresented minorities earlier this month.

One of 22 recipients nationwide, Kauzlarich received the annual Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. The award, administered by the National Science Foundation, acknowledges faculty members who raise the membership of minorities, women and disabled students in the science and engineering fields.

“[Kauzlarich] is a really fantastic supervisor of students,” said physics professor and colleague of Kauzlarich Richard Scalettar. “She really helps the students do challenging things and at the same time provides them with the encouragement and the background to accomplish these tasks. She is able to get undergraduate students at the forefront of important research projects.”

Before receiving the award earlier this month, colleagues of Kauzlarich, including Scalettar, participated in a comprehensive application process to ensure that she would be considered for the 2009 award. Designed to allow the applicant to provide evidence of their capabilities, the 16-page application packet requires three letters of recommendation, a written 15-page narrative, and a video submission reflecting their experience as mentors.

“We would certainly be delighted to work with her in this program, in helping identify women and minority students who would benefit from the outstanding personal and scientific guidance she always provides.”

After arriving at UC Davis in 1987, Kauzlarich initiated the bringing of SEED to UC Davis, or Summer Educational Experience for the Economically Disadvantaged. A program sponsored by the American Chemical Society, Project SEED is a national program that works to encourage high school students to pursue careers in chemistry. Participants spend eight weeks working on research projects supervised by faculty mentors, and are required to present their research at the end of the eight-week period.

“Typically, back then especially, women were very underrepresented in the sciences,” said Peter Schiffman, geology professor and founding co-chair of SEED. “The goal was to show these high school students that a career in science was not only attainable, but fun. They can be researchers in science rather than just the things they may have been pointed to in high school.”

Along with her continuing active participation in SEED, Kauzlarich is currently involved in a number of programs that share similar objectives, such as MURPPS, or Mentorships for Undergraduate Research Participants in the Physical Sciences. Within 22 years, Kauzlarich has put 50 undergraduates and dozens of high school students at the forefront of research projects in her lab on campus.

“I’m researching thermoelectric materials, [which are] materials that can be used to turn heat into electricity,” said chemistry graduate student Catherine Cox, who is currently working in Kauzlarich’s lab. “Susan has been a source of motivation for me because she is very intelligent and an example of how to be successful. Having open communication with her has allowed me to learn a lot from her; she is the one that encouraged me to apply to grad school.”

The trip to DC to receive the award not only honored the recipients, but also held workshops on the importance of mentoring and on education in science. In addition to being recognized at the White House, Kauzlarich received a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to advance her mentoring efforts.

“The three days in DC gave me much to think about,” Kauzlarich said in a press release. “Best practices for mentoring, why some programs are more successful than others and how our university can make a difference in preparing for the next generation of STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic – leaders.”

REBECCA SHRAGGE can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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