Dr. Aubrey Mendonca, Associate Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition.
Dr. Aubrey Mendonca, Associate Professor in Food Science and Human Nutrition.

Mendonca wins Faculty Award for Diversity Enhancement

Since joining Iowa State University in 1998, Aubrey Mendonca, FSHN associate professor, has been a champion of diversity. In January, he was honored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with the Award for Diversity Enhancement.

In his diversity efforts, Mendonca has been involved in the George Washington Carver Scholars Program. This eight-week summer program is a recruitment tool for both graduate and undergraduate students from underrepresented groups to attend ISU. Interns in the program are mentored by ISU faculty in learning science, participating in research, and developing as professionals, said Mendonca.

Perhaps the most important part of the program, and why he has served as a mentor for 12 years, is the position Mendonca and others serve in encouraging minority students to pursue higher education. The program has had substantial impact on interns. Mendonca noted the program has recorded approximately 20 percent of the interns enroll as students at ISU.

Programs like this are “important because [they] contribute to improving diversity at U.S. universities,” said Mendonca. And diversity enhances the cultural, social, academic, and professional aspects of students’ lives during college, he continued.

A looming figure in diversity and science at ISU is George Washington Carver, for whom the program is named, and whom Mendonca counts as an inspiration. While there are many things about Carver which inspire people, Mendonca is inspired by his “commitment to scientific discovery and practical perspective on how research can improve the lives of people.” But most importantly, Mendonca is inspired and encouraged that the education Carver received here at ISU served as the starting point for his rise to national and international recognition as a prominent scientist and inventor.

Mendonca sites mentorship as a big motivation to Carver in his pursuit of higher education and thus his emergence as an outstanding researcher and scholar. Practicing what he preaches, Mendonca has mentored five minority M.S. students and two minority Ph.D. students in his work at ISU, in addition to the many undergraduates who have benefited from working in the lab under his guidance.

Mentorship isn’t confined for Mendonca to students working in his lab. He is a consistent presenter of workshops to programs like Science Bound, encouraging minority students to further their education at ISU.

He is also serving as a mentor to faculty at other universities, fostering research relationships and encouraging diversity. Most recently Mendonca has collaborated with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. With former student Dr. Makuba Lihono, associate professor, Mendonca has arranged faculty exchange visits. “Though faculty exchange visits, [we] were able to engage in proposal development, co-mentoring of students, and research collaboration,” said Mendonca. Outputs of these efforts include two scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals and a USDA-funded project that will involve researchers from Arkansas, Romania, and Iowa State.

Throughout his career Mendonca has been working to enhance diversity at Iowa State in a variety of ways and advance educational opportunities for those diverse audiences. And this is just the start, for he has no thoughts of slowing down.