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2010 AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award goes to Dr. Joel D. Oppenheim of New York University School of Medicine

Dr. Joel D. Oppenheim of New York University School of Medicine has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) "for his extraordinary leadership to increase the numbers of African and Hispanic Americans in the Ph.D. biomedical workforce."

Dr. Oppenheimwho serves as the Senior Associate Dean for Biomedical Science and Professor of Microbiology at New York University School of Medicinewill receive the 2010 AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement during a 19 February ceremony at the 2011 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and co-chair of the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting, wrote in a nomination letter for Dr. Oppenheim that he could think of no one more deserving of the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award.

"On both an institutional and national level," Dr. Hrabowski reported, "Joel Oppenheim has had a dramatic impact on establishing a robust pipeline (from undergraduate, to graduate, to postdoctoral, to faculty) of students from all backgrounds."

Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, agreed. "Joel's enormously successful efforts to recruit and support women and underrepresented minorities in the biomedical sciences have dramatically transformed the demographics of the graduate school population at his institution as well as nationally," she said. "He has achieved this through an array of high-impact programs combined with his incredible capacity to motivate and provide personalized support for each of his students."

Among Dr. Oppenheim's programmatic victories, Dr. Hrabowski cited the NYU School of Medicine's highly competitive Summer Undergraduate Program, thoughtful oversight of his institution's doctoral programs (collectively referred to as the Sackler Institute), efforts to improve the quality of life and educational experiences of postdoctoral fellows, development of the "NYU Survivals Course," and much more. Dr. Oppenheim's initiatives over the years also have emphasized interdepartmental and interdisciplinary training for students and a highly effective national recruitment program.

In supporting students, Dr. Oppenheim leverages "both carrots and sticks, but mostly an incredible ability to connect with students personally in ways that make them believe in their ability to succeed in graduate school," said Dr. Louise Hainline, a psychology professor and dean of research and graduate studies at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.

For example, she said, his mentoring over the years has encompassed helping a Haitian graduate student receive appropriate dental care, thus ending her severe headaches and allowing her to complete her education. He also once flew to the home town of a new graduate student whose fear of flying made travel seem like an insurmountable obstacle.

With his help, NYU School of Medicine "has moved into the front ranks of the country as an institution that values diversity"in particular, by establishing a highly competitive summer undergraduate research program and many other effective programs, Dr. Hainline noted.

Dr. Medeva Ghee, acting executive director of The Leadership Alliance, was one of the students mentored by Dr. Oppenheim. After completing the summer program, Dr. Ghee said, she felt empowered to pursue a Ph.D. degree in microbiology at NYU School of Medicine. But "as a young African American woman from southern Virginia, the challenges of navigating a competitive graduate training program were compounded by the complexities of transitioning from a rural environment," she recalled. "Joel was keenly aware of these cultural differences and went above and beyond the call of duty," introducing her to multi-cultural students, faculty and staff.

Another former student, Dr. Maria Ocampo-Hafalla, now a postdoctoral fellow at the Cancer Research UK-London Research Institute, described Dr. Oppenheim as "part cheerleader, part boot camp commander, part funding guru, part therapist, part parent, and part friend."

Dr. Oppenheim received his B.S. degree in zoology-genetics in 1965 from the University of Wisconsin. He then earned his Master's degree in 1968 and his doctoral degree in 1970 in medical microbiology from Loyola University School of Medicine. He completed his post-doctoral research (1970-1972) at New York University School of Medicine.

Currently, he serves on his institution's M.D. and M.D./Ph.D. Admissions Committees, and he chairs the Ph.D. Admissions Committee. He is the founder and organizer of the "What Can You Be With a Ph.D.?" Symposium, and one of the founding program directors of The Leadership Alliance (1992), a consortium of collaborating minority-serving colleges and major research universities committed to increasing graduate-level underrepresented minorities in all disciplines. He also has been an invited speaker on graduate education issues at a number of large national meetings and programs throughout the country.

Established by the AAAS Board of Directors in 1991, the AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement recognizes individuals who have, for more than 25 years, mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students (women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) toward the completion of doctoral studies and/or significantly affected the climate of a department, college or institution, or field in such a manner as to significantly increase the diversity of students pursuing and completing doctorates in the sciences. Also considered are nominees' demonstrated scholarship, activism and community building. The award includes a monetary prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, and complimentary registration for the AAAS Annual Meeting.

The AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award will be presented at the 177th AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., which will take place 17-21 February 2011. The awards ceremony and reception will be held in the Grand Ballroom North, Washington Renaissance Downtown, on Saturday, 19 February at 6:00 p.m.

Each year, the AAAS Board of Directors also bestows a Mentor Award, in addition to the Lifetime Mentor Award. The Mentor Award this year will go to Dr. Joseph M. DeSimone, who serves as both the Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University. Dr. Simone was honored "for his dedication to advancing diversity in the chemistry Ph.D. workforce."


Contact: Katharine Zambon
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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