The White House Oct. 15 announced that President Donald J. Trump has named the recipients of the Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, with three Indian Americans among the awardees.
Awardees come from schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity schools, and schools in the United States territories of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.
Among the recipients were Jamboor Vishwanatha, Priya Natarajan and Salil Desai.
Vishwanatha is from the University of North Texas Health Science Center, winning one of the mentor awards.
Vishwanatha is the regents professor and vice president, principal investigator for the National Research Mentoring Network, and director of the Texas Center for Health Disparities at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.
“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to make a difference in the lives of many individuals,” he said in a statement. “It is gratifying to see them as successful citizens contributing the scientific advancement in our country. The award is a recognition of the important role of mentoring in developing and diversifying our national science workforce.”
Vishwanatha has established academic partnerships with various institutions in India and has trained many students and faculty from India. His former students are now in senior positions at various Indian universities and Industries.
Born in Bangalore, Vishwanatha received his B.S. and M.S. from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore.
Vishwanatha serves as a faculty member to students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty who have trained in his laboratory. He also promotes opportunities for underrepresented students and faculty through various institutional, regional and national programs. Together, these activities have resulted in mentoring of more than 3,200 students and faculty, a UNT release said.
As a faculty member, Vishwanatha has personally trained and mentored 36 undergraduate students from the partnerships he has built with minority serving institutions.
Natarajan, from Casco Bay High School in Maine, was among the teaching award winners.
CBHS principal Derek Pierce recommended Natarajan for the honor.
“Priya Natarajan may be the most comprehensively excellent teacher – and human – with whom I have worked,” Pierce said in a Portland Public Schools release. “She does not just fulfill the rigorous criteria for this national honor, she exemplifies them.”
Natarajan was a math teacher and department head at Deering High School for 12 years before coming to CBHS five years ago. Prior to that, she was a founding teacher at Boston Arts Academy. She has a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and a master’s degree from Harvard.
Natarajan has excelled at CBHS, Pierce said.
“Priya’s humble but persistent advocacy has elevated the status of math at our school,” he wrote in 2017. “Priya is especially passionate and effective at inspiring young women and students of color to pursue STEM. (Priya’s family is from India, but she grew up in rural West Virginia.) She volunteers with Portland Empowered to better engage our multilingual families and promotes authentic opportunities for our students of color to lead and share their voice.”
She engages all students, Pierce said, asking “open-ended questions that invite student grappling and inquiry” and striking “an impressive balance with a classroom that functions like both a supportive community and a place where diverse individual needs can be met,” according to the report.
Pierce also added that Natarajan has “contributed deeply and diversely to the life of the school, from chaperoning dances and launching math team to representing CBHS on district work.”
Desai, from the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, was one of the recipients of the mentor honor.
A professor of industrial and systems engineering, Desai’s research interests lie in hybrid nano/micro and bio manufacturing; regenerative tissue engineering and drug delivery; multiscale and multiphysics modeling; and combinatorial additive manufacturing.
He earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute, and then master’s and doctorate degrees in industrial engineering from the University of Pittsburgh.
Established in 1983, PAEMST is the highest award given by the U.S. Government to kindergarten through 12th grade teachers of mathematics and science, including computer science.
A panel of distinguished mathematicians, scientists and educators at the state and national levels assess the applications before recommending nominees to OSTP.
Teachers are selected based on their distinction in the classroom and dedication to improving science, technology, engineering, and math education, according to a news release.
PAESMEM recognizes the critical roles mentors play outside the traditional classroom setting in the academic and professional development of the future STEM workforce.
Colleagues, administrators, and students nominate individuals and organizations for exemplary mentoring sustained over a minimum of five years. Since 1995, PAESMEM has honored the hard work and dedication which mentors exhibit in broadening participation in the STEM pipeline, the release said.
Mentors support learners from kindergarten through the collegiate levels, as well as those who recently started their careers in STEM. Mentors share their expertise and guidance with learners, sometimes through formal mentoring programs.