2009 Presidential Award

Dr. Vladimir Strelnitski accepts the Presidential Award in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton. Dr. Strelnitski is pictured 5th from the right in the back row.

Dr. Vladimir Strelnitski accepts the Presidential Award in Washington, DC. Photo credit: Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton. Dr. Strelnitski is pictured 5th from the right in the back row.

On Wednesday, January 6th, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring was conferred upon 23 individuals and organizations. Among the awardees was the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association, recognized for its exemplary 52 year-old undergraduate research program in astronomy. This program was founded by MMA’s Dr. Dorrit Hoffleit in 1957, and mentors capable young undergraduates, especially women. In 1991, after the National Science Foundation (NSF) launched its national Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, the MMA became a permanent NSF/REU site in astronomy. It is now recognized as one of the best in the nation.

The honor of accepting the award went to MMA Director of Astronomy Dr. Vladimir Strelnitski. Dr. Strelnitski’s 12-year leadership and mentoring of the program brought it the highest national recognition. From Washington, Dr. Strelnitski shares his inspiring experience: “The most important experience for me was the 4-day symposium on mentoring where the 23 mentors-awardees (for the last two years) exchanged their experiences in mentoring in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). They are all bright and dedicated people, a great pleasure to deal with.”

the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring was conferred upon 23 individuals and organizations. Among the awardees was the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association

During the symposium, Dr. Strelnitski and the other awardees shared their ideas on how to improve science education and to better instill a respect for and understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with the nation’s youth. President Obama appeared to share these aspirations in the speech he gave the awardees on the morning of January 6th. “It was a good speech,” says Dr. Strelnitski. “This speech and our meetings with his science and education advisors left the impression that this administration is serious about the necessity to radically improve the education process in this country.”

In a July 2009 White House press release announcing the final selection of the award winners, President Obama expressed his admiration for these individuals and organizations. “There is no higher calling than furthering the educational advancement of our nation’s young people and encouraging and inspiring our next generation of leaders,” President Obama said. “These awards represent a heartfelt salute of appreciation to a remarkable group of individuals who have devoted their lives and careers to helping others and in doing so have helped us all.”

Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, congratulated the Association noting that, “It is more important than ever that American students be well grounded in science, math, and engineering in order for them to be able, whether as professionals or just as citizens, to understand and tackle the challenges that face our nation. The great talent and commitment you have shown in mentoring — and in particular your success in helping students in demographic groups that are underrepresented in these important fields — are worthy of the highest recognition.”

Read About Maria Mitchell Association’s NSF-REU Program.

Maria Mitchell Association Receives Presidential Recognition

NANTUCKET, MA- On Thursday, July 9, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that the Maria Mitchell Association had been selected to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Dr. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology congratulated the Association noting that, “It is more important than ever that American students be well grounded in science, math, and engineering in order for them to be able, whether as professionals or just as citizens, to understand and tackle the challenges that face our nation. The great talent and commitment you have shown in mentoring — and in particular your success in helping students in demographic groups that are underrepresented in these important fields — are worthy of the highest recognition.”

The astronomy internship program at the MMA has a long and storied history.

The undergraduate research program was created by Dorrit Hoffleit in 1957. The program’s focus was to mentor capable undergraduate students from various American colleges and universities in astronomical research. In the first 19 years, Dr. Hoffleit recruited only female students in an attempt to improve the low level of participation of American women in Astronomy. Overall, she mentored 100 students in 21 years, 97 of whom were women. The internship program continued under MMO directors Drs. Belserene (1978-90), Friel (1991-96)and Strelnitski (1997-present). In 1991, after the National Science Foundation launched its national Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, the MMA became a permanent NSF/REU site in astronomy. Over the past two decades, the MMA has been appointing six or seven astronomy REU students each summer; approximately two-thirds of them have been women and one-third men.

 

The program’s excellent reputation is due to several principles that have been elaborated during the five decades of the mentoring program:

1. Specializing in mentoring undergraduate research;
2. Mixed gender but female-dominated environment;
3. High personal responsibility of the student with 24/7 availability of an advisor;
4. Combination of an individual research project and a team project;
5. Development of students’ communication and teaching skills; and
6. Dedicated follow-up for each student through their academic careers.

The success of the MMA program of mentoring undergraduate research in astronomy is widely recognized. Each year, the MMA receives 90-100 applications for the six available REU positions. Data on MMA REU alumni/ae also indicates that 65% of them pursue graduate study and 60% go on to earn the Ph.D. in astronomy. Additionally, data on the number of current female Ph.D.’s in astronomy suggests that 5% of all women holding the Ph.D. in astronomy attended the Astronomy program at the Maria Mitchell Association.

 

MENTIONS IN MEDIA

Cape Cod Times, 1/06/10
Cape Cod Times, 1/01/10
Inquirer and Mirror, 12/30/09
Inquirer and Mirror, 1/8/09
Obama-Mama.com Blog
NSF.gov site

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