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2014 AAAS Mentor Award Honors Juan E. Gilbert, University of Florida, for Supporting African American Doctorates in Computer Science

Juan E. Gilbert, the Andrew Banks Family Preeminence Endowed Chair and associate chair of research in the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida, was chosen as the winner of the 2014 AAAS Mentor Award for dramatically increasing the number of African Americans pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science.

Through his mentoring, Gilbert has produced more African-American Ph.D.'s in computer science than anyone else, according to his nomination materials. To date, he has mentored a total of 41 African-American students who have earned computer science doctoral degrees, surpassing many of his peers.

Juan Gilbert third
Courtesy of Juan Gilbert

When Gilbert began serving as the Presidential Endowed Professor and Human-Centered Computing Division Chair in the School of Computing at Clemson University in 2009, there were two African-American students pursuing Ph.D.'s in computer science. By 2013, there were more than 20, making Clemson home to the highest number of African-American computer science doctoral students in the nation. According to the Computing Research Association Taulbee survey, which analyzes Ph.D. enrollments in computer science, there were 145 African-Americans pursuing Ph.D.'s in computer science in 2013.

Since Gilbert's arrival at the University of Florida in 2014, the number of African-American doctoral students in computer science enrolled at the university has grown from one to 13. France Jackson, a Ph.D. student in human-centered computing, transferred to the University of Florida to continue working with Gilbert, even though the move increased the amount of time she would need to complete her degree.

"I knew that following my advisor meant that I would have to make some serious sacrifices in my personal life, but that is how valuable my advisor is to me and how large of a role I feel he plays in my success," Jackson wrote about Gilbert. "As my mentor, he is worth picking up and moving."

The award review committee unanimously selected Gilbert as their top choice and awarded him perfect scores. "Dr. Gilbert has an enormous capacity for understanding the challenges faced by underserved groups — whether young people of color, women, or people from low-income backgrounds — and for thinking about how to connect those groups to technology," wrote Freeman A. Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "He knows how to connect with people effectively and in such a way that they are brought into the work."

As a professor in the computer science and software engineering department at Auburn University, Gilbert led workshops for African-American Researchers in Computing Sciences (AARCS) bringing together scientists from across the country, representing a wide range of career levels. "Prior to AARCS, I had never seen so many African-American computer scientists in one place," wrote Kyla McMullen, assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the University of Florida. "These workshops were a tremendous asset to my development."

Gilbert also moderates African-American Ph.D.'s in Computing Sciences (AAPHDCS), a listserv including more than 300 African-American computing sciences faculty and students. "Before the AAPHDCS list, many of us were isolated and disconnected from each other at our respective institutions," McMullen wrote. "Juan has brought us together as a community and this has thoroughly benefitted us all." Additionally, Gilbert is working as a primary investigator at the Institute of African-American Mentoring in Computing Sciences (iAAMCS).

In addition, Gilbert has published more than 140 articles, given more than 200 talks, and been awarded more than $24 million in research funding. He is also a AAAS Fellow and a recipient of the Presidential Award for STEM Mentoring. Gilbert has been named a national role model by Minority Access, Inc.; a Master of Innovation by Black Enterprise magazine; and Pioneer of the Year by the National Society of Black Engineers. In 2013, he was named one of the Ten Tech Innovators by the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Auburn University Black Graduate and Professional Student Association named their Distinguished Lecture Series in Gilbert's honor. He earned a B.S. in systems analysis from Miami University, followed by his M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Cincinnati.

The AAAS Mentor Award honors AAAS members who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students, including women, minorities, and persons with disabilities, pursuing Ph.D.'s in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and who have demonstrated scholarship, activism, and community building on behalf of underrepresented groups in STEM fields. The award includes a $5,000 prize and a commemorative plaque, and complimentary registration to the AAAS Annual Meeting, as well as reimbursement for reasonable travel and hotel expenses to attend the meeting.

Gilbert will receive the 2014 AAAS Mentor Award during the 181st AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California, 12-16 February 2015. The AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception will be held at 6:15 p.m. on Friday, 13 February in Room 220C of the San Jose Convention Center.


Kat Zambon