Professor, Activist, Scientist Is a Mentor First

Gardella Wins 2005 Presidential Award for Mentoring

Release Date: November 16, 2005


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Joseph A. Gardella has won the 2005 Presidential Award for Mentoring for his advocacy efforts at UB and in the Western New York community.

BUFFALO, N. Y. -- If there is a common thread that runs through the many facets of Joseph A. Gardella's professional life, it's advocacy.

A professor of chemistry at the University at Buffalo, Gardella advocates for the right of children to learn science, for the right of college students to have access to the best science education, for the right of disabled students to fulfill their highest potential, for the right of women and minority faculty members to experience advancement opportunities and for the rights of citizens to fully understand the environmental science that affects their neighborhoods and their health.

Today, in a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Gardella was honored by the White House for his efforts with a 2005 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). He and other recipients were recognized at an awards ceremony presided over by John H. Marburger, science advisor to President Bush and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President.

The annual award, administered by the National Science Foundation, honors individuals and organizations that have demonstrated a commitment to mentoring students and boosting the participation of minorities, women and disabled students in science, mathematics and engineering. It includes a $10,000 grant for continued mentoring work and a Presidential certificate.

Gardella's work at UB and in the communities that surround it has been one of activism and support for individuals on campus and in the community whose voices rarely are heard.

Many students, faculty and community members have benefited from Gardella's tireless advocacy and assistance. They include:

-- A paraplegic chemistry student, who with Gardella's enthusiastic assistance and support, graduated from UB with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and is continuing studies at the university as a doctoral student. She conducts research and teaches with the help of a standing motorized wheelchair, which Gardella helped her obtain with NSF support.

-- Six community organizations in Western New York have raised serious environmental health questions about their neighborhoods that have been investigated thoroughly, thanks to Gardella, who developed one of the nation's few chemistry service-learning programs focusing on environmental concerns in urban communities. Students in chemistry, geology, geography and engineering help citizens investigate how their neighborhoods may have been impacted by local industry and by plants that no longer operate, issues that are typical of many Rust Belt cities. Working with these organizations, Gardella and his students become liaisons between citizens and technical experts from regulatory and business organizations.

-- Western New York students of science now can conduct intensive multidisciplinary research through the National Institutes of Health summer Research Institute on Biomedical Materials Science and Engineering at UB, for which Gardella is principal investigator. It is one of only six such programs funded by the NIH in the U.S.

-- UB students in the arts and humanities, like their counterparts in the sciences, benefit from conducting research, thanks to the Community Linked Interdisciplinary Research (CLIR) program, for which Gardella is a co-principal investigator. CLIR was designed to respond to the research needs of the Western New York community.

-- Undergraduate non-science majors receive more than a full year of science instruction, as well as a full year of laboratory work, as a result of curriculum changes established in the early 1990s by the UB General Education Curriculum Committee, which Gardella chaired.

-- The number of women and minority faculty at UB is on the rise following the implementation of several institutional initiatives in which Gardella has played leading roles, including chairing a group focused on developing policies to hire, promote and retain more women in science and engineering.

-- K-12 students in Buffalo have benefited from Gardella's outreach efforts, particularly to minorities and those with disabilities, while he was associate dean for external affairs of UB's College of Arts and Sciences.

UB President John B. Simpson praised Gardella's advocacy and mentorship work, noting that they "have had a transformative effect on UB and the larger communities it serves."

"Joe's efforts have had tremendous impact in opening the doors of opportunity for those who have long been underrepresented in the science and technology fields. Through his leadership in this regard, he fulfills in truly exemplary fashion one of the key objectives at the heart of UB's mission as a public research university -- our institutional commitment to ensuring equitable access to a first-rate education."

Uday P. Sukhatme, dean of the UB College of Arts and Sciences, praised Gardella's focus on the impact of science on society and his championing community projects related to effects of chemical pollution on the environment. "He genuinely cares about the welfare of students and understands the importance of increasing the number of under-represented students and faculty in scientific disciplines," Sukhatme added.

In working on environmental chemistry projects, Gardella and his students have provided critical scientific data to communities for free, while using real-world community problems as a backdrop against which he teaches about politics, society, analytical chemistry and environmental geographic information science.

The course, "Analytical Chemistry of Pollutants," is supported by UB's Environment and Society Institute, which Gardella helped found, and which supports interdisciplinary, public-service projects dealing with the environment in Western New York.

By using a scientific approach to tackling and communicating local environmental issues, Gardella and his students are replacing the alienation that citizens sometimes feel when dealing with regulators or local officials with pride and understanding.

"What I've found amazing is that there is little attempt to provide a serious effort to answer legitimate questions raised by the public," said Gardella. "Through this course, my students and I can fill the role of independent evaluators, advocating for the public's right to know, the public's right to understand and the public's right to influence public policy."

Gardella says he plans to use the PAESMEM grant to collect data on how individual mentoring affects students, faculty and community members with the goal of expanding and improving UB's mentoring efforts.

In particular, he said he plans to study why female professors at UB stay longer at the associate-level than do their male peers.

He also will use the grant to work closely to expand K-16 science education outreach to Native American schools and education centers and to other local public schools.

Gardella has received three SUNY Chancellor's Awards -- for Excellence in Teaching, for Excellence in Faculty Public Service and for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Activity.

He also received a National Science Foundation Award for Special Creativity and an Exxon Educational Foundation Research and Training Program Grant and was elected as a fellow of the American Vacuum Society. Gardella was recipient of the 2002 Jacob F. Schoellkopf Medal from the Western New York Section of the American Chemical Society and the 2003 Ernest A. Lynton Award for Faculty Professional Service and Academic Outreach.

A resident of North Buffalo, he graduated from Oakland University and earned a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.

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