Friday, December 9, 2005
OU alumnus honored by President Bush for mentoring
By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer
Joseph Gardella, CAS ’77, has a number of titles — OU alumnus, professor, researcher, activist and scientist, but most recently President George W. Bush honored him for the titles of advocate and mentor. Gardella was awarded a 2005 Presidential Award for Science, Mathematics and Engineering for his commitment to mentoring students and boosting the participation of minorities, women and disabled students in the areas of sciences and math.
“My parents were public school teachers in Detroit so I’ve had a lifetime of saying ‘This is my responsibility,’” said Gardella of his work advocating for disadvantaged groups and mentoring.
A professor of chemistry and biomaterials and also the associate dean for external affairs at the University of Buffalo, Gardella has mentored more than 60 undergraduates as well as a number of graduate students in the university setting. Additionally, he supports junior faculty and women professors at the university.
Gardella also works with programs for Native Americans. He is involved with the Seneca Nation supporting the identification and recruitment of high school students. He works within the Buffalo Public School System’s Native American Magnet School where he tutors, performs science demonstrations and supports the curriculum.
The father of a physically disabled child, Gardella also helped a paraplegic student graduate with a degree in chemistry, obtain a standing motorized wheelchair and begin her doctoral studies at the University of Buffalo.
In the community, Gardella is an advocate for citizens’ rights, including the right to fully understand the environmental science that impacts your neighborhood and health.
Being recognized by the White House for his desire to educate and mentor makes Gardella proud. He also feels privileged to be honored with such a deserving group of individuals and one organization.
“The other people who received the presidential award are a pretty inspiring group. These are people who go above and beyond the call of duty,” Gardella said.
The group of 10 individuals and one organization are charged with developing a paper together on mentoring and presenting it as a presidential report.
Besides his parents, Gardella also credit his OU experience for instilling in him the desire to mentor.
“When faculty take an active interest in you as a human being, as they do at OU, you receive a mentorship that touches you for the rest of your life,” said Gardella.
A lot of the things he is doing within the community are things Gardella said he did or experienced as an undergraduate at Oakland University. Gardella sees his leadership within the community as a way of “paying it forward to the next generation.”
Along with the presidential recognition, Gardella and the other Presidential Award recipients each received a $10,000 grant for continued work in the area.
“I want to take this award and do something with it,” Gardella said. “It’s not the award, it’s the opportunity to turn this into more action.”
With his grant, Gardella is partially funding a number of activities. A part of the money will fund a sociology graduate student’s research on why women at the University of Buffalo are at the associate professor level longer than men before becoming full professors.
Another portion of the money will be used to study environmental issues in the community including graduate students’ studies of nuclear contamination. Some of the grant will go to the Native American magnet schools. The grant also will cover a doctoral student’s research on why kids lose interest in science.