ON DECEMBER 12, 2011 at the White House Oval Office, President Barack Obama honored nine recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. One of them is Filipino-American Dr. Amelito G. Enriquez, an Engineering and Mathematics Professor at the Cañada College in Redwood City, California.
“It was like an out-of-body experience for me. I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in front of the President of the United States, getting an award in the Oval Office. It was really a great experience,” revealed Dr. Enriquez, in an exclusive interview with Asian Journal.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, he is thinner and smaller than I thought.’ But he sounds exactly the same in person as he does in TV. I was impressed by how he connects with you and how sincerely he values education,” Dr. Enriquez said.
Mentoring’s important role
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering, awarded by the White House to individuals and organizations, recognizes the crucial role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering – particularly those who belong to groups that are underrepresented in these fields.
By offering their expertise and encouragement, mentors help prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers, while ensuring that tomorrow’s innovators reflect and benefit from the diverse talent of the United States.
“Through their commitment to education and innovation, these individuals and organizations are playing a crucial role in the development of our 21st century workforce,” President Obama said when he first announced the awardees. “Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude for helping ensure that America remains the global leader in science and engineering for years to come.”
Recognized for outstanding work
Enriquez was nominated by Janet Stringer, Dean of Science & Technology at Cañada College for his outstanding work in the community college, where he has taught for 17 years. Over the recent years, Enriquez has attracted more than $10 million in state and federal grants to the Redwood City Community College. He has developed a series of programs designed to help underrepresented students achieve success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. Enriquez has established an intensive summer math program aimed at helping students improve their math test scores; he’s established a Summer Engineering Institute for underrepresented students; he’s partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to establish an internship program for students; and he’s partnered with San Mateo County to help veterans transition from the military into engineering careers.
To recognize Enriquez’s achievement, Cañada College hosted a reception for him on December 15 at their campus in Redwood City. Students, colleagues and community members honored the professor with several student testimonials about his influence on their education and careers and how he shaped their lives through his mentoring. In addition, Enriquez also received a Congressional Resolution from Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
Cañada College Interim President Jim Keller honored the well-loved professor in his remarks. “Amelito Enriquez is one of the finest examples of excellence in teaching this country has to offer. His passion and commitment to the advancement of student success is consistently demonstrated by the achievement of students he serves. He elevates not only the performance of the students but of the colleagues who have the pleasure and fortune to work with him. Cañada College has been able to contribute to the nation’s need for graduates with degrees in math and science due to his efforts in seeking grant support when local resources are declining,” said Keller.
Enriquez, who lives in San Francisco, is helping spearhead an effort to send engineering students from community colleges to the University of California and California State University systems, while increasing the number of minority students in STEM programs, Canada College officials said.
Asked by Asian Journal what inspired him to be a mentor to countless students, Dr. Enriquez shared about his humble beginnings in the Philippines which has motivated him to help the underrepresented, the minority, and the less privileged.
“I was born in Manila and raised in the very poor community of Bagong Silang in Camarin, Novaliches. It was the dumping ground for squatters in Metro Manila. I studied in public schools there – Camarin Elementary and Camarin High School. Our community was so poor – there was no electricity and galing lang sa poso-poso ang tubig. Our schools there had no bathroom. If we needed to go, we just went out into the fields,” Enriquez shared.
“Most of the time, only the teacher had a book; the students had no books. So, we spent a lot of time copying the teacher’s book. The student with the nice penmanship would copy the book on the blackboard and we would all write it down in our notebooks. We spent so much time copying the teachers’ books,” said Enriquez.
After high school, Enriquez applied in the University of the Philippines. “I wanted to take up Mechanical Engineering but found out that the only scholarship available at the time was for Geodetic Engineering. So, I applied and fortunately, was accepted. I felt so out of place in my first year. I was poor; many of my classmates were sosyal. I wasn’t good in English and Math kasi nga hindi kami naturuan ng maayos sa Camarin. So, I worked really hard to catch up and mabuti na lang, nagustuhan ko na din yung course and did well,” said Enriquez, who is known to his family and friends as Boyet.
One of his professors in UP played a big role in motivating him. “Her name was Miss Valeña, and she probably would not even remember me. But I remember how she would look at me when she asked questions, as if telling me, ‘you should know the answer to this.’ That challenged me to really study hard. Plus, she offered to give an imported chocolate bar to whoever gets a 100% grade in the tests. The imported chocolate bar motivated me to excel in campus,” he said with a grin.
After graduating from UP with a BS in Engineering, Enriquez taught engineering in his alma mater until in 1987, he applied for Graduate School in the Ohio State University. He took up his Masters in Geodetic Science in OSU, and then his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, in the University of California, Irvine.
In 1995, he joined the faculty of Cañada College where he has built his excellent career, educating, inspiring and mentoring students.
Grants and other notable achievements
To help underrepresented and less privileged students achieve success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Enriquez has committed himself to designing programs for which he has raised grants and developed partnership plans. Among the grants he got for his programs are:
– Department of Education Hispanic-Serving Institutions Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (HSI-STEM) grant, $5,959
-Veterans’ Employment-Related Assistance Program: Bridge to Engineering for Veterans, $465,000, 2011-2013.
– NASA Curriculum Improvements Partnership Award for the Integration of Research (CIPAIR), $450,000, 2010-2013.
– National Science Foundation Innovations in Engineering Education and Curriculum Improvement (IEECI), $150,000, 2010-2012.
-National Science Foundation Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM), $600,000, 2009-2014.
-Department of Education Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP), $900,000, 2008-2011.
-DyKnow Post-Secondary Collaborative Software Grant, 2009-2010.
-Hewlett-Packard Technology for Teaching Leadership Grant, $120,000, 2006-2007.
– Hewlett-Packard Technology for Teaching Grant, $75,000, 2005-2006.
– San Mateo Community College Trustees Grant for Program Improvement, 2004.
-Hewlett-Packard Higher Education Grant: Diversity in Pre-Engineering Programs Mobile Technology Grant
– Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) Program Grant, 1999.
-Hewlett-Packard Silicon Valley Grant for Community Colleges, 1996, 1998.
(LA Weekend Feb 4-7, 2012 Sec A pg. 10)