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06/16/2016 – Medford/Somerville, Mass. – Michael Romero, Professor of Biology, poses for a photo on June 16, 2016. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Earlier in the summer Tufts Professor Michael Romero headed down to Washington for the awards ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery, meeting with the National Science Foundation director and the deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where he received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.  The award is administered by the National Science Foundation and the awards program recognizes exceptional science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) mentoring of groups historically underrepresented in STEM sectors and the STEM workforce.

When Michael Romero started as an undergraduate at Swarthmore in 1984, one of only a handful of Hispanic Americans there, he was majoring in philosophy, with law school in his future. But his first mentor there, a young biology professor, took Romero under his wing, put him to work on a lab project—and the rest is history, said Romero, a professor of biology who has been teaching at Tufts since 1996. He never forgot that lesson, and made it his goal to help students—especially women and those from minority groups underrepresented in science fields.

Tufts Now recently talked with Romero about mentoring both undergraduates and graduate students, and why it is so important to him.

What are your goals as a mentor?

I want the students to take ownership of their research, so that it will result in publishable papers. Publications are the sine qua non of scientific research and the best way to show that students are prepared for the next step in their careers. I try to strike the proper balance between guidance and independence. I don’t want to “spoon-feed” a project to my students, but I also don’t want them to struggle with too little support.

I try to get undergraduates into the lab and doing projects as early as possible, and for as extended a time as possible. My goal is to get them into graduate or professional school rather than provide a one-semester “research experience” that has little long-term impact on the STEM pipeline. In this way I hope to mentor students who will become tomorrow’s STEM leaders.

Do you think mentoring is especially important for students who might not have the background to easily succeed on their own—such as being underrepresented minorities and/or not having the socioeconomic advantages of some of their classmates?

Yes, mentoring is especially important for them. Students from families with a history of higher education often can succeed with only the support they get from their families—although even for them, quality mentoring can make an important difference. In contrast, mentoring can be vital to encouraging and promoting successful STEM careers for students who lack that family support.

To read the full interview on Tufts Now Click Here.