April 16, 2001 Vol. V, No. 14

Biology Professor Chosen for Wang Family Excellence Award

Maria Elena Zavala Becomes First CSUN Faculty Member to Receive Cal State System Honor

CSUN biology professor Maria Elena Zavala(right, with students)has been chosen to receive a Wang Family Excellence Award from the California State University for her outstanding work with students-the first time a CSUN faculty member has won this award.

Zavala is one of five recipients this year (four faculty and one administrator) selected for the awards from around the 23-campus Cal State system. She will be presented with the award, which includes a $20,000 payment, during the CSU Board of Trustees meeting May 15-16 in Long Beach.

"Dr. Zavala's important contributions to the fields of botany and cell biology, her commitment to her students, and her mentoring of minority students and teachers have made her an exemplary member of our faculty," said CSUN President Jolene Koester.

A plant biologist who has taught at CSUN since 1988, Zavala said she is honored to be selected. "But really, it is the students who deserve the recognition. I just try to give them an opportunity, and they are the ones who take advantage of it," she said.

"It's like planting trees. You can't make an elm into a pine tree. But you can shape a pine tree into the best tree it can be. I try to provide the students an environment where they can do well," Zavala added.

The CSU award was established in 1998 when CSU Trustee Stanley T. Wang gave the Cal State system a $1 million gift to reward outstanding service. The annual awards "celebrate those CSU faculty and administrators who through extraordinary commitment and dedication have distinguished themselves by exemplary contributions and achievements in their academic disciplines and areas of assignment."

Among her varied honors, Zavala last September received White House recognition for helping build the Biology Department's Minority Access to Research Careers and Minority Biomedical Research Support programs. She received the National Science Foundation's 2000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.

Those two CSUN programs involving Zavala, and one called Bridges to the Ph.D., have received more than $2 million in grant funding since 1999. Zavala also was honored with CSUN's 2000 Award for Outstanding Achievement in Equity and Diversity. And, she was elected president of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

Zavala has mentored more than 125 minority science students at CSUN since 1993. Those students have succeeded with completion rates exceeding 90 percent and have been nine times more likely to advance to Ph.D. programs. Zavala received her undergraduate degree from Pomona College and her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley.

Biology professor Maria Elena Zavala has been honored for her mentoring work with students.

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