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Wyss receives presidential honor and award for mentoring in the field of STEM

October 18, 2019
UAB News, by Yvonne Taunton

Mike Wyss, Ph.D.
Mike Wyss, Ph.D.

Mike Wyss, Ph.D., professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, has received the 2019 Presidential Excellence Awards in Science, Mathematics and Engineering for Mentoring.

The award recognizes the critical roles mentors play outside of the traditional classroom setting in the academic and professional development of the future STEM workforce. Only 12 mentors, including Wyss, were chosen in the United States for the 2018-19 cycle.

“I am honored to be nominated and selected for such a prestigious award, which reflects so positively on the work of many who have been a part of our Center for Community OutReach Development, which was established in 1998 to advance UAB’s outreach efforts in the Birmingham community,” Wyss said. “We have since expanded our primary focus to advancing K-12 science education throughout the state and the nation with an eye on developing programs to improve the regional, racial and gender disparities in science, math and engineering. The number of people responsible for helping to develop the hands-on, inquiry-based science experiences and advance our efforts to improve STEM are numerous. Their contributions have enriched and changed countless lives — and their work continues today." 

Colleagues, administrators and students nominate individuals and organizations for exemplary mentoring sustained over a minimum of five years. Former UAB Nutrition and Obesity Research Center director David Allison, Ph.D., organized Wyss’ nomination for the award and secured letters from the Office of the Provost and others — including many of Wyss’ past trainees. A panel of distinguished mathematicians, scientists and educators at the state and national levels then assess the hundreds of applications received before recommending nominees to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the National Science Foundation. Teachers are selected based on their distinction in the classroom and dedication to improving science, technology, engineering and math education.

Wyss says he is indebted to UAB for making the award possible.

“The collaborative atmosphere carefully developed by Dick Hill and Scotty McCallum in UAB’s initial years, and their commitment to ensuring that UAB developed the research, education and health care leaders for the state, nation and world, led us on the faculty to learn to become mentors in all we did at UAB,” Wyss said. “More recently, as I focused more on K-12 STEM education, I have similarly been significantly supported by the UAB administration from the president to the deans, to all of the UAB family. As I go around the country and talk about the support UAB gives to mentoring and educating the next generation, and the collaborative atmosphere UAB engenders in its faculty and students, most listeners tell me they wish they had a supportive university like UAB.”

“As I go around the country talking about the support UAB gives to mentoring and educating the next generation, and the collaborative atmosphere UAB engenders in its faculty and students, most listeners tell me they wish they had a supportive university like UAB.”

The K-12 STEM teaching needs in Alabama are well-documented, and Wyss and CORD have been a part of UAB’s answer to solving these problems, says Robert Palazzo, Ph.D., dean of UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“Dr. Wyss has been committed to improving STEM education in Alabama for more than two decades, working tirelessly since the launch of CORD in 1998 — and always with an eye toward mentoring and developing future STEM leaders,” said Palazzo. “The College of Arts & Sciences is proud to be the home for CORD, and we are proud of Dr. Wyss for this well-deserved honor.”

Wyss says he hopes this award is recognized primarily as an honor to the many students and fellows along with the outstanding CORD staff he has been honored to help guide and collaborate with for the past 40 years.

“Many of them in their education, service and research activities have become excellent mentors of their own students and fellows,” Wyss said. “I hope to continue to assist them to be even better guides for the next generation.”