Alice M. Agogino Wins 2012 AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award

Alice M. Agogino has been honored by AAAS for her efforts to significantly increase the number of women and African- and Hispanic-American doctorates in mechanical engineering.

Agogino—who serves as the Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley—will receive the 2012 AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement during a 15 February ceremony at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts.

Alice M. Agogino (Courtesy Alice Agogino)
Alice M. Agogino | Courtesy Alice Agogino

She is an internationally renowned scholar who is widely respected for her interdisciplinary research in human-centered design, her contributions to engineering education, and her effectiveness in broadening participation within the field of engineering. As an educator, her efforts have encompassed improvements to undergraduate engineering education and K-12 science and technology instruction, as well as gender equity and digital libraries focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

In addition to her scholarship in the field of teaching, her disciplinary research has focused on sustainable design, computational design, computer-aided design based on micro-electro-mechanical systems, monitoring, diagnostics, prognostics, and intelligent control, sensor validation, and more. Agogino has won five “best paper” awards for her research in mechanical engineering as well as an additional three “best paper” awards for her work in engineering education. She has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, and she is the co-author, with her graduate students, of 12 course modules.

Through her mentoring, example, and interactions, Agogino has inspired a large number of students and junior faculty members to include the scholarship of teaching as part of their research portfolios. During her career, she has mentored 23 doctoral students (17 from minority backgrounds); 82 Master’s students (36 minority); and an estimated 800 undergraduate researchers.

“I have been continually inspired by her educational initiatives for societal outreach, engineering education, and student mentoring,” Lisa A. Pruitt wrote in a letter of nomination for the AAAS award. “Professor Agogino has tirelessly worked on developing initiatives within the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley to improve recruiting, retention, and climate for women and underrepresented minorities.”

For two decades, Agogino served as a mentor for Pruitt, a professor and diversity officer who also serves as the Lawrence Talbot Distinguished Professor of Engineering at UC Berkeley. “She has helped guide me through life-balance choices, educational initiatives” and career choices, Pruitt said.

Agogino’s educational efforts have included the development of a freshman-sophomore service-learning class on human-centered design that is combined with a senior-graduate level course on engineering education. Students enrolled in the service-learning course are able to develop pre-college design activities while serving as student role models in support of UC Berkeley outreach programs that work in tandem with programs of San Francisco Bay Area science museums, Pruitt explained.

Agogino reframed existing minority-serving programs in the college to be more inclusive and developed the Multicultural Engineering Program, the Graduate Academic Diversity Program, and the Julia Morgan Women’s Program at UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering.

Agogino typically mentors 20 to 40 undergraduate researchers each year, using a tiered system in which she trains senior doctoral students to assist in the mentoring process. She then focuses on mentoring undergraduate students through team meetings about research. She also follows up with individual students to offer graduate school and career advice, and with students needing more intensive mentoring.

Ryan Shelby, a recent Ph.D. student who is now a postdoctoral fellow at the National Academy of Engineering, described Agogino as “an ardent guardian and supporter of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts designed to increase the number of highly qualified women, first-generation college, and underrepresented minority students graduating with advanced degrees.”

Shelby said that, in his case, Agogino reached out to him while he was completing his undergraduate degree and encouraged him to apply to graduate school at UC Berkeley as well as other research institutions. “Once I arrived at UC Berkeley, Dr. Agogino took the time to discuss with me about the difference approaches that Berkeley utilizes for engineering knowledge production and [she] worked with me to overcome any fears and concerns that I had about matriculating from a small historically black college and university (HBCU) to a major research institution.” As a result, Shelby said, he is completing his dissertation this summer and beginning a science-technology policy position at the National Academy of Engineering in the fall.

Agogino received her B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from the University of New Mexico in 1975 and her Master’s degree from UC Berkeley in 1978. She then earned her Ph.D. degree from the Department of Engineering-Economic Systems at Stanford University in 1984. Prior to joining the UC Berkeley faculty, she worked for Dow Chemical, General Electric, and SRI International. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Association of Women in Science, and AAAS. Her numerous awards have included a Presidential Young Investigator Award and a Distinguished Teaching Scholar Award from the National Science Foundation, teaching excellence awards, and community service awards.

“Her energy and enthusiasm for identifying research that is important (though perhaps not popular), then tackling that research with thoughtfulness…have greatly influenced many of my own career decisions,” said Sheri Sheppard, a professor of mechanical engineering and associate vice provost for graduate education at Stanford University. “She is not afraid to think beyond the conventional—she recognizes that major change is only likely to happen if some individuals are willing to think with imagination.”

Established by the AAAS Board of Directors in 1991, the AAAS Mentor Award for Lifetime Achievement recognizes individuals who have, for more than 25 years, mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students (women, minorities, and persons with disabilities) toward the completion of doctoral studies and/or significantly affected the climate of a department, college or institution, or field in such a manner as to significantly increase the diversity of students pursuing and completing doctorates in the sciences. Also considered are nominees’ demonstrated scholarship, activism and community building. The award includes a prize of $5000, a commemorative plaque, and complimentary registration for the AAAS Annual Meeting.


Read more about the AAAS Mentor Awards.

Learn more about events at the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting, 14-18 February in Boston.