SACNAS Honors Five Leaders in Science Research, Mentoring, and Teaching

SACNAS is pleased to announce the winners of the 2013 SACNAS Distinguished Awards. The following individuals whose dedication to excellence in science, mentoring, and teaching exemplifies the SACNAS mission, were nominated by those who have been touched by their work and selected by a committee of their peers. Awards will be presented with special tributes throughout the 2013 SACNAS National Conference in San Antonio, Texas, October 3 - 6. 

Since the SACNAS Distinguished Awards program was initiated in 1997, the Society has honored over 80 scientists, educators, and program directors for their commitment to and personification of the spirit of the SACNAS mission: to assist Hispanic/Chicano and Native American scientists, from college students to professionals, to attain advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership in science.

2013 Community College Mentor Award

769 Robert Urtecho, PhD
Dean of Natural & Social Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering at College of the Sequoias

Award presentation: Friday, October 4 – Lunch plenary session

Dr. Robert Urtecho was raised in inner-city Los Angeles, the son of Mexican (Yucatec Maya) immigrant parents, neither of whom completed grammar school. It was his parent’s hard work that nurtured him and seven siblings through college.

After graduating from high school he was granted financial support to attend St. Mary’s College of California (BSc, biology, 1981). Dr. Urtecho began his career teaching high school science and math and attended St. Bonaventure University (MSc, biology, 1987) during summers. His studies continued at University of California, Davis (PhD, botany, 1996) and were completed while teaching full time at College of the Sequoias.

Dr. Urtecho is the dean of Natural & Social Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering at College of the Sequoias. He is also the director of PASEO, an academic support program for incoming freshmen majoring in math, science, and engineering. Additionally, he oversees the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Program that increases STEM diversity and graduation rates.

When asked why he chose community college he emphatically states, “It’s where most of the students with backgrounds similar to my own begin their training. My college is in the San Joaquin Valley of California, one of the poorest regions in the nation. It is here where my efforts can have their greatest impact.”

2013 Professional Mentor Award

770 Jacquelyn Bolman, PhD (Oglala Lakota)
Director, Indian Natural Resource Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP), Humboldt State University

Award presentation: Friday, October 4 – Lunch plenary session

Dr. Jacquelyn Bolman is a native of the Great Plains and Black Hills of South Dakota. She earned her undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees with a clear and distinct focus on geoscience and tribal science at the University of South Dakota. Her university experiences changed the way in which she participated in the world—especially the natural world—strengthening her commitment to ensuring all people have access to and equity in higher education.

After serving in leadership positions at institutions in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions, Dr. Bolman is currently the director of the Indian Natural Resource Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP) at Humboldt State University. INRSEP, the only program of its kind in California, is an academic and research program designed specifically to ensure American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students are successful in securing degrees in natural resources and STEM disciplines. This fall, she will serve HSU as the director for the newly created Center of STEM Excellence and assume responsibility for all underrepresented STEM students.

In each of the capacities, Dr. Bolman has worked with K-12 and university students to develop and integrate programming promoting original research dedicated to the ideals of culture and returning to others the gift she received of astute mentoring.

2013 Distinguished Undergraduate Institution Mentor Award

771 María Cristina Villalobos, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Mathematics, & Founding Director, Center of Excellence in STEM Education, University of Texas-Pan American
(Full Professor as of September 1, 2013)
Award presentation: Friday, October 4 – Dinner plenary session

María Cristina Villalobos is the oldest of the three children born to Mexican immigrants Cristina and Jesús Villalobos. Her mother, who completed high school and her father, who went to school through third grade, have been strong supporters of their children’s education.

It was upon her mother’s suggestion that Dr. Villalobos requested enrollment in high school honors courses. Thus began her quest to attend college and redefine her dreams from becoming a secretary to becoming a high school math teacher. Little did she know that her college experiences would lead her to a doctorate degree and a faculty career.

Since high school, Dr. Villalobos devoted every summer to working part-time or in summer research programs. Having visited the University of Texas-Austin for a state competition, she applied to UT for college. During her studies at UT, math professors mentored her with opportunities to attend summer research programs at UC Berkeley and Rice University. In 1994, she met Dr. Juan Meza at SACNAS and acquired a summer internship at Sandia National Labs. These opportunities, along with a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, allowed her to pursue graduate studies at Rice University in applied mathematics, earning a doctorate degree in 2000. In the same year, Dr. Villalobos married Arturo Fuentes. They returned to the Rio Grande Valley and have served UTPA for eleven years. They have two children.

2013 Distinguished Research Mentor Award

772 Renato J. Aguilera, PhD
Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Texas at El Paso

Award presentation: Friday, October 4 – Dinner plenary session

Dr. Renato Aguilera (BS and MS, Biology, University of Texas at El Paso; and PhD, UC Berkeley) conducts research in cancer biology and immunology. As an undergraduate, he was encouraged to pursue a research career by SACNAS founding member, Dr. Eppie Rael. Dr. Aguilera was a tenured professor at UC Los Angeles for 14 years prior to his appointment as a full professor at UTEP in 2002.

As director of the Biology Graduate Program, the number of graduate students has grown from ten to well over fifty biology PhD trainees (>60% Hispanic). Dr. Aguilera is also the director of the NIH funded Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) and an NSF S-STEM grant. Through these training programs, more than a hundred undergraduates have been trained, with more than 50% of these trainees going on to graduate programs across the country. He has recently obtained a four-year NIH grant to continue the characterization of recently discovered anti-lymphoma compounds that involves the training of several students.

Dr. Aguilera has served as board member of SACNAS and is the current chair of the Minority Affairs Committee of the American Society for Cell Biology. Due to his long-standing commitment and leadership in increasing the representation of minorities in the sciences, Dr. Aguilera received the prestigious 2010 ASM William A. Hinton Research Training Award.

2013 Distinguished Scientist Award

773 Miguel Mora, PhD
Professor, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station

Award presentation: Saturday, October 5 – Lunch plenary session

Dr. Miguel Mora could not have foreseen the future that awaited him as a boy growing up in a small village in Mexico. However, Dr. Mora’s pursuit of an education led him through seminary school and college in Mexico, and eventually to the United States where he obtained his MS and PhD in ecology at the University of California, Davis. He then continued with a postdoctoral researcher position at Michigan State University.

After completing his education, Dr. Mora worked as a Research Wildlife Biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey for 15 years and later accepted an offer of a full professorship with tenure on arrival at Texas A&M University in 2007. Currently, he is recognized all over the world for his accomplishments in ecotoxicology with over 70 publications in prestigious journals such as Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and Ecotoxicology.

Dr. Mora is a former member of the Board of Directors and a Life Member of SACNAS. He was also chair and co-chair of the nominations committee for nearly 10 years. His dedication to SACNAS extended into establishing the Texas A&M SACNAS Student Chapter in 2009, for which he is also advisor. At the international level, Dr. Mora has been a member of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry World Council for the last five years.

Related Resources

SACNAS Distinguished Awards Program

2013 SACNAS National Conference