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NSF Press Release


NSF PR 02-16 (NSB 02-18) - March 4, 2002

Media contact:

 Bill Noxon

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Susan Fannoney

 (703) 292-8096

Mentoring Organization, Evolution Activist Singled Out for NSB Public Service Award

The 2002 National Science Board Public Service Award for increasing public understanding of science and engineering will go to Eugenie Scott, an activist for teaching evolution in public schools; and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), the "premier" organization that promotes diversity in science careers (especially for underrepresented Latinos and Native Americans). The annual award recognizes one individual and one institution for their outstanding contributions to communicating, promoting or helping to develop broad public policy in science and engineering.

Scott, a physical anthropologist, has been the executive director for the National Center for Science Education, based at the University of California at Berkeley, since 1987. She has advocated tirelessly to raise the level of consciousness about the appropriate way to teach evolution in U.S. public schools.

SACNAS is singled out for giving information, support, guidance and mentoring to budding young Latino and Native American scientists and engineers.

"These awards are not research-based, yet they are special because they go to the heart of what is really important for our nation -- informing, educating and building greater literacy in science and engineering," said NSB Chairman Eamon Kelly. "SACNAS and Eugenie Scott have had a profound impact on influencing and encouraging a new and more diverse group of next-generation scientists and engineers. They have built career-developing and career-enhancing programs, and a body of thought within our K-12 public school systems promoting progressiveness and inclusiveness."

"In an appropriate manner, Eugenie Scott struck a chord for the nation in the teaching of evolution. She communicated her message in a positive way among other competing, sometimes opposite, and often emotional points of view," said Paula Apsell, who chairs the NSB Public Service Award advisory committee.

Scott currently serves as president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. She says her background in physical anthropology enables her to look at the debate over creationism versus evolution from both scientific and cultural perspectives.

Scott has consulted for a PBS-produced video series on evolution and for other programs on the creation/evolution debate, and on pseudoscience. She also has consulted with the National Academy of Sciences on its books "Science and Creationism" and "Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science."

"I feel that the contribution I have made over time is bringing a certain civility into the dialogue about evolution versus creationism," Scott says. "People have strong feelings about the issue, and I have tried to keep communications channels open and positive."

SACNAS, in the last quarter century, has grown from a handful of people devoted to bringing more Latinos and Native Americans into scientific and engineering fields, to an organization of more than 4,100 members reaching tens of thousands of minority students and career scientists and engineers.

"In 1972, when the organization first started, it served just a handful of people," explained Richard Tapia, NSB member and co-founder of SACNAS. "At our first meeting we had eight people and essentially met on an elevator. Now, SACNAS is a huge success story, meeting a large need at the right time. After 30 years, to see an organization grow to serve so many people after such humble beginnings makes me proud to have played a role."

"We are surprised and honored, but we have also worked very hard to fulfill our mission," SACNAS President Maria Elena Zavala said. Zavala, a biology professor at California State University at Northridge, says that her organization's success is partly due to the commitment of the membership to developing scientists and "influencing the pipeline at the earliest point."

SACNAS provides year-round mentoring and role models through its membership. At its annual conference, SACNAS mentors undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences, mathematics and engineering by sponsoring them to participate in their first professional conference, and hearing from role models first hand.

More than 200 teachers were among the 1,600 overall who attended last fall's annual SACNAS workshop, "and that was after events of Sept. 11," Zavala said. She believes the workshops, rural outreach and a program of e-mentoring with teachers will make a significant difference in years to come as the U.S. builds its next generation of "home-grown" scientists and engineers.

Another major effort of SACNAS is its biography project, which provides students who visit the organization web site an introduction to Latinos and Native Americans who have had successful scientific or educational careers.

"We have a young Latino and Native American population that is trickling into professorship positions, so we are also building our mentoring support to include young Ph.D.s," Zavala said.


For more information, see:

For more information on SACNAS, see:



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