Student cheers during the Arizona State University Hispanic Convocation

ASU professors recognized for contributions to Latina/o success

By

Amanda Stoneman

Three Arizona State University professors were honored at the Victoria Foundation’s eighth annual Arizona Higher Education Awards ceremony for helping Latina/o youth pursue advanced degrees.

“I am only one of many who think we can modestly make a difference,” said Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, the founding director emeritus of the nation’s first School of Transborder Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “One that will provide the intellectual formations and critical skills that are crucial to the achievement and excellence of all of our community.”

The Victoria Foundation, the first Latina/o community foundation in the United States, was established to promote the advancement and support of higher education among youth of socially and economically impoverished communities as well as underserved ethnic groups. The foundation seeks to increase access to higher education so these youth groups can pursue advanced degrees and make a positive difference for neighborhoods and communities throughout Arizona.

In support of the foundation’s mission to minimize and eliminate financial barriers for youth to attend college, the higher education awards were created to recognize leaders from Arizona’s highly reputable education institutions who champion the recruitment and degree completion of Latina/o students.

For 2017, the Victoria Foundation announced three Arizona Higher Education Award winners from ASU: Regents’ Professor Gary Keller, the director of the Hispanic Research Center; Antonio García, associate director of the center and professor of bioengineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; and Regents' Professor Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez in the School of Transborder Studies and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. 

The ceremony was held in memory of Pete García, the founding president of the Victoria Foundation and former CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa — one of the largest Hispanic nonprofits in the country.

“I am flooded with poignant memories of Pete García and his enterprise on behalf of Chicanos por La Causa, the Chicana and Chicano community and all of us who reside in Arizona,” said Keller, who received the Dr. Loui Olivas Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education Award. 

In 1986, Keller partnered with Pete García on Project 1000, an initiative to assist underrepresented students with applications to graduate school. The project served as a catalyst for additional initiatives spanning 31 years that enable underrepresented minority students to excel in higher education.

For fiscal 2012–16, Keller’s academic enrichment projects through the Hispanic Research Center had unprecedented results. Two hundred and sixty-eight underrepresented minority students graduated with doctoral degrees in STEM fields and doctoral enrollment increased 622 percent. They also had 36 fully funded fellowship students in mathematics, chemistry, life sciences and engineering.  

The Hispanic Research Center has also secured grants from several sources, including the Carnegie Corporation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, Arizona State Legislature (House Bill 2108), American Honda Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. The external grant support has been instrumental in advancing basic and applied research on a broad range of topics related to Hispanic populations.

“I am delighted to receive the Distinguished Leadership Award and most especially so as the director of the Hispanic Research Center,” Keller said. “What I feel is humility and gratitude to all my colleagues at every level of the center for the opportunity to lead such a wonderful group of individuals.”

Foundation Professor Antonio García, the associate director of the Hispanic Research Center, received the Dr. William Yslas Velez Outstanding STEM in Higher Education Award. He has worked for 27 years on education and human resource projects aimed at improving math, science and engineering education in order to help meet the demand for a skilled and diverse U.S. technological workforce.

With colleagues in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Antonio García has helped create curricular and laboratory experiences for first-year students in bioengineering aimed at enhancing problem-solving skills, fostering creativity in engineering design and expanding the context of engineering research, development and practice.

Founding Director Emeritus Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez of the School of Transborder Studies won the Dr. Eugene García Outstanding Latina/o Faculty: Research in Higher Education Award.

“Of all the stuff that a long life provides one is the opportunity to receive some recognition for what we do,” Vélez-Ibáñez said. “And for me, this is the best of the best because it comes from the heart of our community from persons who truly are committed and caring for the children and youth upon whom we all count to enhance all of our lives.”

Vélez-Ibáñez has had numerous research and applied projects funded by foundations of governmental agencies. The newest is a five-year, $2.2 million project designed to recruit, train and retain Mexican origin migrant students to ASU.

In April 2016, Vélez-Ibáñez was inducted as a corresponding member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences — one of only 107 elected, including 10 Nobel Prize winners. In the same year, he was also elected as the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Rocky Mountain Scholar for his commitment to the creation of new legacies for future Latina/o generations.

“We will continue to strive to make it possible for our children to have and take advantage of the opportunities for excellence, achievement and community enhancement,” he said.