Denice D. Denton, dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Washington, is among nine scholars honored by the White House last week with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, recognizing her role as a national leader in engineering education.
The winners were recognized at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in a noon ceremony presided over by John Marburger, science adviser to President Bush and director of the president’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. The award includes a $10,000 grant and a presidential certificate.
Denton said the recognition the award brings to her work is exciting and gratifying, but that it remains secondary to the real payoff.
“The wonderful thing is seeing the folks that I’ve mentored over the years progress and be successful,” she said. “The real thrill for me is watching them grow and thrive and contribute and become leaders in engineering and science.”
When Denton came to the UW in 1996, she became the first woman in the nation to lead an engineering college at a major research university. During her tenure at the UW, she has been instrumental in establishing and promoting multiple programs that seek to take engineering to segments of the population that traditionally don’t see themselves as having a chance to pursue science-related careers.
This focus comes not just from a desire for fairness, Denton said. It is also smart business. Diversity and excellence, she said, go hand-in-hand.
“Fund-raisers talk about leaving money on the table,” Denton said. “In our case, if we don’t broaden our recruiting approach, we are leaving brains on the table. What we are missing is talent — talent that could make us a better society.”
On a national scale, seeking out talented future engineers and scientists, wherever they may be, will play a large part in determining the status of the United States as a technology leader in the new century.
“It’s a global village, and we can’t be complacent,” Denton said. “I think we will have a competitive edge — if we can pull together talented, diverse groups.”
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring has been given annually since 1996 to recognize a long-term commitment to providing opportunities for greater participation in science and engineering by all Americans.
Up to 10 individuals and 10 institutions may qualify each year for the award. The awardees are considered exemplars to colleagues interested in developing similar programs. The National Science Foundation administers the award for the White House.