Published September 17, 2015
Luis Colón first recognized the value of mentorship while pursuing a doctorate in analytical chemistry at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. He noticed that his peers who did not have a strong relationship with faculty members struggled in school and for direction.
"I saw that other students were not as fortunate (as I was) with hearing good advice — having a good mentor — and I think that motivated me to become one," he recalled many years later.
Since joining the UB chemistry faculty in 1993, Colón has become the quintessential mentor, advising 27 PhD students, 14 master’s students and more than 35 undergraduates. Many of these students are women or from underrepresented groups, including a number from his native Puerto Rico.
Colón’s commitment to mentoring has been recognized with numerous awards over the years, including being named by President Barack Obama as a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.
The longtime UB faculty member can add yet another honor to that list: the 2016 Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences from the American Chemical Society (ACS).
The award, sponsored by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, recognizes “significant accomplishments by individuals in stimulating students, underrepresented in the profession, to elect careers in the chemical sciences and engineering.”
Colón, who also serves as associate dean for graduate and postdoctoral education for the UB Graduate School, will receive his award in March at the ACS’ annual meeting in San Diego.
The ACS award and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring — which included a trip to the White House last spring and a meeting with Obama — are just the latest honors the A. Conger Goodyear Professor in the Department of Chemistry has received recognizing his commitment to mentoring. Among the others are the 2004 Faculty Mentor of the Year award from the Compact for Faculty Diversity, a national initiative to produce more minority PhDs and encourage them to seek faculty positions; the 2009 Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science; the ACS’ 2010 Stanley C. Israel Award; and the 2012 Geoffrey Marshall Mentoring Award from the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools.
Colón just returned from another trip to Washington — this time at the invitation of Vice President Joe Biden — to attend Biden’s annual reception celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 .
“This year has been indeed amazing,” Colón said, “and I am grateful and humbled by all of this recognition, including last Saturday (Sept. 5) when I was selected to be the Faculty Honorary Coach of the Day for the Bulls!”
Besides his mentoring responsibilities, Colón is a prolific researcher who holds eight U.S. patents and has contributed to more than 100 research publications and delivered more than 180 invited lectures worldwide.
He recently received a $490,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop new materials to improve the current analytical technology used in chemical analysis — in particular the separation of chemical components in a mixture.
The proposed research will lead to a universal platform on which different separation media can be prepared, opening up possibilities for their use in specific practical applications and facilitating advances in the chemical, biological and related sciences.