College and university academics, administrators and alumni from across the nation, and students earning their way up the ladder of learning were honored this weekend in the nation’s capital as a “national role model” for their achievements as academic models for others following the same pursuits.
Minority Access, Inc. (MAI), a small, long-established organization that focuses on recognizing academic achievement, cited more than 40 academicians, nine undergraduate students for their research studies, and others as “Minority Access Role Model” recipients.
Most of the honors included little if any cash. Still, the MAI recognition was characterized as priceless by its founder, staff and people familiar with the program over the years. They say being honored for any level of achievement in academic research and inspiring students to pursue research is rare and understated.
“Our aim is to inspire young people to emulate these people as role models just as they try to emulate sports and entertainment figures,” said MAI President Andrea Mickle, a higher education advocacy operative for more than three decades.
The two-day MAI conference at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C., was marked with mentoring workshops and conferences for honorees and finalists in various student competitions.
U.S. Department of Education Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Linda Byrd Johnson participated as a keynote speaker, offering conference attendees an update on what the department is doing in the final days of the Obama administration to continue advancing higher education.
The numerous honors awarded were most important, however. The organization awarded “national role model” honors to 14 higher education institution administrators, four alumni not directly involved with an institution currently, two faculty role models, five faculty mentors, three faculty research mentors, and one community college president.
Nine students (three each from Howard University, the University of Arizona and Spelman College) won cash awards of up to $1,000 each for the style and substance of their presentations on the “student research” model category.
They won from nearly 40 students from those institutions and Seaton Hall, Texas Southern, the University of Nevada and other institutions in the competition. Each student was given 15 minutes to present their research proposal to a jury panel of government, academic and corporate enterprise judges.
Spelman College alum Krishna Foster, a chemistry professor at California State University, Los Angeles and mentor for students studying science, was among the five academicians nationally recognized as a “Minority Access National Role Model.”
“I am truly honored for this award, which acknowledges the effort I have invested in realizing inclusive excellence in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] for CAL State LA students,” said Foster.
Indeed, it’s not the cash honor that counts most, says Dr. Thomas Landefeld, a biology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH).
“It’s a really good networking organization,” said Landefeld, a graduate of Marietta College in Ohio who earned a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, then spent 20 years at the University of Michigan before going to CSUDH.
Landefeld, a recipient of the MAI role model award presented to faculty, also has successfully sponsored six students who have won honors for undergraduate student research proposals and presentations.
The MAI effort is distinctive because it mostly focuses on students on students at institutions that have no funds of substance to support student research, holding them to the highest of expectations and helping them find the academic and mentor coaching they need along the way.
The MAI honor is “a step” toward recognition “to show the students do academically well and they have good research abilities,” said Landefeld. He lists five former students as MAI role model recipients, including 2005 National Student Role Model Mark Castanares. Castanares, who later went on to early a degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is now a scientist at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly Company.
Landefeld, meanwhile, was cheering from a distance this year’s recipients of MAI honors and noting those who embrace its goals and objectives never stop pursuing opportunities for minorities. He has had completed visits to two historically Black colleges, Winston-Salem State University and Spelman College, to speak of the value and importance of students pursuing studies in the sciences.
“It’s been very successful because it’s been inspiring,” said Dr. Samuel L. Myers, MAI founder and chairman, explaining why such lower-profile groups command the attention of and inspire people at all levels of higher education regardless of the roots of an institution.