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Colִón receives AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award

Luis Colon with a female student in the lab.

UB chemist Luis Colón works with a student in his lab in the Natural Sciences Complex. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published February 16, 2024

Luis Colon.
“This award reaffirms my conviction that providing opportunity and sharing knowledge in a supportive environment can be reassuring and empowering to advance science. ”
Luis A. Colִón, SUNY Distinguished Professor and A. Conger Goodyear Professor
Department of Chemistry

Luis A. Colִón, SUNY Distinguished Professor and A. Conger Goodyear Professor in the Department of Chemistry, is the recipient of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) 2024 Lifetime Mentor Award, based on his longstanding commitment to advancing diversity in the chemical sciences. 

The Lifetime Mentor Award honors an individual with more than 25 years of experience who has mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students. Winners also must have demonstrated scholarship, activism and community-building on behalf of underrepresented groups in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Colִón, who is also associate dean for inclusive excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, will be recognized at AAAS’s annual meeting Feb. 15-17 in Denver.

“This award reaffirms my conviction that providing opportunity and sharing knowledge in a supportive environment can be reassuring and empowering to advance science,” Colón says. “It also gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that former students and professional colleagues recognize the importance of the lifetime commitment of a mentor.”

Over the last three decades, Colón has worked to recruit students from his undergraduate alma mater, the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey, to conduct research at UB. By building relationships with university officials, hosting recruitment visits, tailoring research projects to students’ own interests and a deep level of personal mentoring, Colón has created a diverse research community in a chemistry department that had no Hispanic representation when he arrived in 1993. 

Colón’s efforts have resulted in more than three dozen advanced degrees to Hispanics in the past 25 years, as the majority of the 51 graduate students he has directly mentored hail from underrepresented groups. In addition, more than 100 Hispanic American students have taken part in Colón’s summer internships, a model that several other institutions have replicated.

One of Colón’s students is Jose Rivera, a 2008 UB PhD graduate and now analytical network strategy lead at Organon. 

“Due to Dr. Colón’s continued efforts, many individuals like me, as a first-generation college student, have obtained the opportunity to pursue goals that we could never imagine we were able to achieve professionally and as a person,” Rivera says. “Certainly, his desire and eagerness to teach, perform high-quality research and mentor students has influenced tremendously the way I perform today as a scientist.”

Colon regularly helps students get their work published in peer-reviewed journals, secure graduate fellowships, develop courses and prepare for presentations.

He’s also fostered a sense of tribe and belonging in and out of his laboratory. He co-founded the Institute for Strategic Enhancement of Educational Diversity in 2013 to create an inclusive community for UB students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty and staff. In addition, he and his family welcome students into their home for Thanksgiving dinners and summer picnics, and former students have traveled across the country to attend his birthday celebrations. 

“Thanks to Luis’ dedication to grow a group centered on camaraderie and support, present and former students have carried on his mentoring legacy and often extend career and professional development support to each other,” says Glamarie Burgos Adorno, a 2004 UB PhD graduate and now a senior research scientist at Thermo Fisher Scientific. 

Colón has received numerous other awards for his commitment to mentoring, including the 2016 American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Disadvantage Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences. In 2015, he was named by then-President Barack Obama as a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

“Throughout his career, Luis has been a tireless advocate for expanding the diversity of the next generation of STEM researchers, ensuring that countless students who did not think they could become a scientist now have successful careers,” says Graham Hammill, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of the Graduate School. “His commitment and accomplishments are an inspiration to us all.”