Obama honors UD professor for excellence in mentoring
President Obama and educators selected for the award in 2007 and 2008. Patricia DeLeon is seated second from the right. White House Photo by Samantha Appleton
Patricia DeLeon with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife and UD alumna, Dr. Jill Biden, in Biden's West Wing office. Photo by Mark Deshon

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Editor's note: See related article: "Four education alumnae are White House guests"


9:15 a.m., Jan. 15, 2010----Patricia DeLeon, Trustees Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and member of the Board of Trustees at the University of Delaware, was honored by President Barack Obama during a White House ceremony on Jan. 6 for excellence in science, math and engineering mentoring.

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DeLeon, who also received a citation and a plaque, was one of only nine educators selected in 2007 for the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. Another 13 educators at the ceremony were selected for the award in 2008. The award winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators after an initial selection process at the state level.

"Whether it's improving our health or harnessing clean energy, protecting our security or succeeding in the global economy, our future depends on reaffirming America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation," Obama told the award winners. "And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in math, science, technology, and engineering."

The award is presented each year to individuals or organizations in recognition of the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science or engineering and who belong to minorities that are underrepresented in those fields.

The award includes $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the White House awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.

DeLeon said the visit was four hectic days with a packed agenda of exciting events and activities, including a symposium, working dinner and lunch sessions, and two award ceremonies -- by the National Science Foundation and at the White House.

"The events were intellectually stimulating and engaging and I was fascinated by the individual stories that awardees shared about their mentoring experiences," DeLeon said. "The plenary speakers on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education were dynamic and inspiring. We also had the opportunity to meet with the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the members of President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) for discussions about the future of science education in the U.S."

DeLeon said the award has underlined the fact that advances in scientific discoveries and technological innovations are buttressed by a foundation of mentoring, an intergenerational transfer process.

"I have changed the yardstick that I use to measure my progress -- it now involves more of the process rather than the magnitude of the product," DeLeon said. "I came back feeling gratified, exhilarated and inspired. I wish for another 25 years in which I will continue mentoring, which I consider a powerful natural human relationship with a lasting legacy."

DeLeon said that during the various meetings that she attended, there was overwhelming support for a proposal to form a National Academy of Mentors, with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring serving as the nucleus.

"That would create an influential nationwide body to help harness the power of individual mentoring and ensure that the STEM workforce and the demographics of the 21st century are in sync with each other," DeLeon said.

DeLeon has mentored more than 100 trainees, including undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and visiting scientists from around the world. A large majority of her undergraduate mentees are women and about one-third of them are minorities. She also has mentored young faculty in the early stages of their careers.

DeLeon received her doctorate from the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada, in 1972 and did postdoctoral studies at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec until 1975. She has been a visiting scientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and she was an adjunct professor at Penn State University College of Medicine.

DeLeon was the keynote speaker at the Inaugural Mentoring Symposium of the American Society of Andrology in 2006 and at the Mentoring Symposium of the Society for the Study of Reproduction in 2008. She has served as chairperson of Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) and on the President's Commission of the Status of Women at UD.

A 1996 nominee for the Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Award, DeLeon now has three patents issued or pending and her research has been supported by both the NSF and the National Institutes of Health. She has received many honors and awards, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Advancement Award and the Medical Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship.

A 1992 gubernatorial appointee to the UD Board of Trustees, DeLeon was re-appointed in 2005. She is a member of the Academic Affairs Trustee Committee.

At a separate ceremony, four UD grads received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which is awarded annually to the best pre-college-level science and math teachers from across the country. Honored were Stacie Ann Broden, who teaches second grade in Southbury, Conn.; Jo Anne Deshon, a first grade teacher at John R. Downes Elementary School in Newark, Del.; Karen Fredricks, a fourth grade teacher at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Newark, Del.; and Anne Marie Magaha, who teaches kindergarten in the Abington (Pa.) School District.

Article by Martin A Mbugua

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