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Campus honors six with Outstanding Women of Color in Education awards

May 17, 2011 By Valeria Davis

Looking across the spectrum of University of Wisconsin–Madison women who were honored as this year’s recipients of the 2011 UW–Madison Outstanding Women of Color Awards, the trait they all share is tremendous personal dedication as mentors and role models to their peers, younger colleagues and students.

This is the fourth year that the UW–Madison Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate has highlighted the contributions of several women of color on the flagship campus as a supplement to the 16-year-old UW System Outstanding Woman of Color in Education Award.

“It is important to recognize the work and role women of color play both on campus and in our community,” says Ruby Paredes, assistant vice provost for diversity and climate. “In the case of the Madison campus, we are fortunate to have a rich selection of campus leaders whose work and personal contributions deserve special recognition.” 

The six 2011 honorees represent a cross section of the campus, including students (undergraduate, graduate or postbaccalaureate students in the professional schools), staff in the classified or academic (instructional or noninstructional) systems, members of the faculty and women of color in the Madison community who have achieved excellence in one or more of the following areas:

– social justice, activism and advocacy on behalf of disadvantaged, marginalized populations;

– community service;

– scholarly research, writing, speaking and/or teaching on race, ethnicity and indigeneity in U.S. society; and

– community building on or off campus for an inclusive and respectful environment.

A selection committee of nine students, staff and faculty selected:

Leslie Bow, professor of English and Asian American studies, who is known for her personal approach to advising and making the classroom a challenging, yet embracing place for students of color, as well as her academic and professional accomplishments.

Graduate students and new or young faculty both praise Bow for her skills as an effective mentor with character and integrity who has helped them to adjust and thrive in departments all across UW–Madison. One nominator wrote, “the effect of her teaching and sustained pedagogical presence on students is clear in every direction.”

Since coming to UW–Madison in 2002, Bow has served as the director of Asian American studies and a constant advocate for expanding Asian and ethnic studies as well as diversifying the faculty. She was promoted to the rank of full professor in 2009 and continues to serve on committees, including undergraduate advising, student journals and even film festivals. The author of two books and countless influential articles on women, Asian culture, feminism and the intersections between these topics and race, she is an important voice in the national literature sector and with scholarly literary journals.

Erica Laughlin, director of the Information Technology Academy (ITA), Division of Information Technology, is a dedicated leader and mentor for the four-year precollege technology and access program for students of color and from disadvantaged backgrounds in the Madison Public School district. The program serves 120 students a year, who receive hands-on training, mentoring and leadership development along with community service and internship opportunities. The coordinator since 2001, Laughlin’s passion and advocacy for social justice, coupled with her leadership, enthusiasm and work ethic has sustained the success of the program.    

One of the most challenging aspects of heading ITA, at which Laughlin excels, is the continuous need to seek funding, sponsorship and volunteers to work with students. During the past decade, the program has had a 100 percent high school graduation rate and by the end of this year, the college completion rate for the first cohort of ITA students will be 87.5 percent. Laughlin also gives back to the community she embraces, serving on the board of the Wisconsin Education Association of Student Support Programs Inc. and is active with the Madison Network of Black Professionals.   

Cynthia Lin, social justice education specialist, Multicultural Student Center, Division of Student Life, is deeply committed to social justice and described by many as “thoughtfully passionate.” Lin earned a bachelor’s of science in environmental engineering and environmental studies from Princeton University, and combined master’s degrees from UW–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. As a scholar-activist, she melds research with organizing and — very importantly for students and the larger community – teaching in credit-bearing courses and training workshops.

She is the co-founder of the Institute for Social Justice and Transformative Leadership (ISJTL), a Multicultural Student Center initiative that provides and supports campuswide opportunities for deep reflection and action around issues of social justice for multicultural students and their allies.  The institute works across communities to establish partnerships celebrate and reclaim the proud legacy of student movements and build students’ capacity to be effective as activists, organizers, institutional change agents and transformative leaders.

In the community, she has worked with Centro Hispano and WORT Community Radio, Operation Welcome Home advocating for and with Madison’s homeless for affordable housing, jobs and the end of criminalization of homelessness, along with Freedom Inc., a grassroots nonprofit organization that provides services and advocacy to low and no-income communities.

Ana Martinez-Donate, assistant professor of population health sciences, is a well-known mentor among minority and ethnic project and teaching assistants in her department and a proud representative of the School of Medicine and Public Health. Martinez-Donate’s work focuses on HIV prevention, breast and cervical cancer prevention and tobacco use as health problems facing Latino populations in the United States.

She works in academic partnership with Planned Parenthood and the Department of Population Health Sciences to increase breast and cervical cancer screening rates in this targeted population and researches the problems and barriers faced by Latinas in both health and socio-economic conditions through the “Taking Care of Me (Cuidandome)” project. With funding earned from the Wisconsin Partnership Program and the National Institutes of Health, her research touches Mexico, California and now, Wisconsin. Martinez-Donate recently became one of 85 researchers to be recognized by President Obama with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government for on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. 

One of her students writes: “…she is a great woman who has inspired me to continue working for the Latino community. She has been able to combine her roles as a mother, spouse and professional worker with outstanding results. Her achievements tell every Latino woman that each of us can also make it and that we can be outstanding women in a country in which it sometimes seems hard to survive.”      

Nancy Marie Mithlo, assistant professor of art history and American Indian studies, is a scholar, teacher, curator, field mentor and community servant who seeks to dismantle and disclose the damaging colonial image of Native Americans and their artwork, while also serving as a strong advocate for diversity on campus. One nominator described Mithlo as “a true public intellectual, a scholar with firm community commitments and a clear and bold feminist voice, who is also a gifted teacher, a theoretically sophisticated cultural anthropologist and a successful independent curator.”

Through extensive research, talented teaching and outstanding service Mithlo is a rising star in the emergent study of Native American art who is bringing national attention to the UW–Madison American Indian studies program through her work to clarify and redefine the classification, definition and understanding of the art of America’s indigenous people, while seeking to give living artists their own voices in defining and describing their art through the Native point of view and cultural framework.

She has become an internationally recognized vanguard to the fields of indigenous visual arts, popular arts and museum studies by tying together history and contemporary market economy and interpretive pressure on indigenous artists to compromise their artistic integrity either by default or in purposeful protest. Her most recent book explores the international Indian art world, where consumers still rely on conventional and damaging interpretive assumptions about Native artists in a living and changing global world.   

 Manuela Romero, assistant dean for student diversity and academic services in the College of Engineering, has dedicated her life to increasing educational access for students of color in the science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields, particularly women of color. She is a sociologist who has studied both racial/ethnic status inequality and organizational processes which sustain these practices.

Coming from El Paso, Texas, in 2004, she brought her sociological insight, research and evaluation skills along with her personal background and experience as an underrepresented woman in science to bear in the creation of a 21-institution alliance in Wisconsin dedicated to doubling the number of underrepresented minorities earning bachelor’s degrees in STEM areas. The former executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP) Romero conceived, designed, obtained funding for and implemented the WiscAMP Academic Acceleration Program (AAP), designed to boost retention and graduation in STEM for underrepresented students through early college career intervention and support. AAP also helps to advise students on potential science careers as a performance motivator. She is credited with demystifying the academic culture for students with less familiarity with higher education and teaching students how to personally navigate the higher education system. The program benefited UW–Madison and the UW System as a whole.

On a personal level, she is lauded as an advocate, mentor and friend with a tireless work ethic and caring personality.