Biology professor honored for achievements in mentoring
CSUN biology professor Dr. Steven Oppenheimer is among the 22 who will be honored by President Obama as recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.
Oppenheimer, who has taught at CSUN since 1971, will receive a grant for $10,000 that, “recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science or engineering and who belong to minorities that are underrepresented in those fields,” according to a White House statement.
“There is no higher calling than furthering the educational advancement of our nation’s young people and encouraging and inspiring our next generation of leaders,” President Obama said in a White House statement. “These awards represent a heartfelt salute of appreciation to a remarkable group of individuals who have devoted their lives and careers to helping others and in doing so have helped us all.”
Oppenheimer is being recognized for this award based on 30 years of work with students, 700 of whom co-authored and published abstracts and presentations and have moved on to schools like Harvard and Johns Hopkins.
Oppenheimer, who said that he was honored to be chosen for the award, stressed that his success would not have been possible were it not for the hard work of the students he works with, along with the support and collaborative efforts of his colleagues.
He also praised CSUN’s leadership for its support.
“Not too many people recognize the importance of the leadership here at Cal State Northridge. The leadership here support (comes) not only with words but with cash,” Oppenheimer said.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y. to World War II German refugee parents, Oppenheimer attended Brooklyn College, then he moved on to City University of New York, where he received a Bachelor of Science in biology. He then received his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
He is also the recipient of 26 different awards and honors, including being elected fellow for the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science research award. Oppenheimer sees these awards and honors he has received as a testament to the quality of the research program at CSUN.
Oppenheimer’s road to receiving this latest award began more than two years ago when Dr. Maria Elena Zavala, also a recipient of the award under the Clinton administration, submitted the 32-page nomination to the National Science Foundation.
He believes that he has received this recognition because so many of his students have received valuable research opportunities.
CSUN has received $7 million in grants and research awards and is ranked in the top five among 500 similar universities in terms of number of graduates in sciences and social sciences. Oppenheimer says that CSUN is successful in this area because of the large number of research opportunities given to students.
“We take on many students in the labs, not only those with the best GPAs,” he said. “While others take one or two, I take 50. That’s why I stand out. This is the beat of my drum. The National Science Foundation recognized that so many students are taken in here and become very successful.”
For Oppenheimer, the exposure for the school and the students is invaluable.
“It’s not only about the award, but it’s about the international reputation of the student research and mentoring. It’s all over the news media and I have been getting messages from all over the world, and CSUN is receiving the recognition,” Oppenheimer said.
Along with the $10,000 grants, Oppenheimer will receive an all expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C for the award ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.