GUIDING LIGHT CSUN EDUCATOR HONORED BY WHITE HOUSE.
WASHINGTON - Biologist Maria Elena Zavala, who has guided more than 100 CSUN students to pursue graduate studies and careers in science, was honored by the White House on Thursday with the 2000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.
She was among 10 college educators nationwide, including Luis Villareal of the University of California, Irvine, to receive the award from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation during ceremonies at Washington's Westin Fairfax Hotel.
The award included a $10,000 grant to support mentoring programs at each of the winners' schools.
Zavala, who grew up in La Verne and graduated from Bonita High School, said she modeled her mentoring after the support she received as an undergraduate at Pomona College.
``It was a small school and there was a close relationship between faculty and students,'' she said. ``I was invited to join a community of scholars at Pomona and I have tried to create the same atmosphere at a large campus like Northridge.''
Zavala, who joined the CSUN faculty in 1988, is credited with assisting 112 students, including minorities and women who were the first members of their families to attend college. Seventy percent of her students have gone on to pursue advanced degrees in a variety of biological sciences.
Her efforts have helped California State University, Northridge, achieve the distinction of having more of its graduates pursue advanced science and math degrees than any college in the nation.
``She has worked her heart out for many, many years and built one of the strongest programs for minority students in the country,'' said Jim Dole, chairman of CSUN's Biology Department.
Dole noted that Zavala has also secured $5 million in grants to support CSUN's Minority Access to Research Careers and Minority Biomedical Research Sciences programs.
Zavala, a Northridge resident, said she has a special affinity for her students. Her parents' education ended with the eighth grade. Ignoring a school counselor's early advice that Latinas weren't cut out for science careers, she earned a doctorate in botany from the University of California at Berkeley in 1978.
``My students are very bright, but they are unprepared for what they face in college,'' said Zavala. ``Many also have to juggle jobs and family responsibilities. I give them encouragement and insights into the careers and opportunities that are out there.''
Villareal, who has directed UC Irvine's research and mentoring programs for more than 20 years, was also the first member of his family to attend college. Born in East Los Angeles and raised in the San Gabriel Valley, he graduated from Baldwin Park High School.
Villareal credits his success to the faculty mentoring he received as an undergraduate at California State University, Los Angeles.
``My minority students, including those at the graduate level, need help adjusting to the challenges of college and in acquiring new methods of learning,'' he said.
Villareal has mentored more than 200 UC Irvine students, many of whom have returned to their communities' public schools as science teachers.
``The need for mentoring never ends,'' said Zavala. ``Even as a professional you have to have people to help you along the way. I still have people I rely on as mentors.''
CSUN biology professor Maria Elena Zavala holds her 2000 Presidential Award in Washington, flanked by Joseph Bordagna, left, of the National Science Foundation and Arthur Bienenstock of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.
Leslie E. Kossoff/Associated Press