Carlos G. Gutierrez - Acceptance Speech

Outstanding Master's Universities and Colleges Professor of the Year National Winner
Carlos G. Gutierrez
Professor of Chemistry
California State University, Los Angeles

It is a great honor to be recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education through a U.S. Professor of the Year award. It is particularly satisfying that the award is for contributing to the development of future scientists by teaching existing chemistry to undergraduates and master's students in the classroom, and through the complementary activity: their creation of knowledge in the research laboratory.

Chemistry is an intensely human activity wherein we attempt to explain the world from a molecular perspective. As chemists we seek to gain through experimentation a molecular understanding of reality, and with that, the ability to describe, manipulate and create. Chemistry is at the core of all the good things (the life-saving pharmaceuticals, the ability to fly across a continent and to communicate by means of the internet, the comfortable Rayon in our favorite shirt). Indeed, chemistry has been an engine for innovation and a strong contributor to the high quality of our physical life and our material wealth. But it is also the bad things: environmental pollution, junk food, Dacron-polyester leisure suits. If the problems are largely chemical, so are the solutions. Without chemistry, solutions are not possible. Certainly, an intense understanding of molecular information is important for scientists, but also at a good level for all citizens as informed participants in a scientifically and technologically sophisticated society.

Undoubtedly the most interesting chemical questions of the twenty-first century have not even been asked, nor, perhaps, a vocabulary yet formulated to pose them. What is clear is that there is a lot of hard and joyous work ahead as scientific disciplines make giant strides or tentatively inch forward towards a better, if provisional, level of understanding. The talents of very creative and intelligent individuals must be developed and recruited to participate in the scientific enterprise. Clearly, the most valuable commodity in the future, as now, will be the creativity, inventiveness and intellectual capital of the practitioners of science. They will propose solutions to present conundrums-and to yet unframed questions.

California State University, Los Angeles, is a research-intensive institution... but an undergraduate research institution. The research programs that I direct have been very successful in assisting motivated undergraduates and master's students as they prepare themselves for success in Ph.D. programs and other ventures. I gratefully accept this award on behalf of the faculty members, staff and administrators at Cal State LA whose hard work has been such an effective support for students committed to becoming research scientists. I accept this award especially on behalf of the students who are the real heroes of this story, who have burnt the midnight oil, who have spent long days and nights in the research laboratory, who have understood that there are no shortcuts to becoming a scientist. They understand that education to the highest levels is the surest route to achieving professional satisfaction, to contributing to the economic well being of our families and communities, and to the success of our society.

I give sincere thanks to many colleagues and friends for their sustained support: Vicki Kubo-Anderson, Doug Currell, Costello Brown, Don Pauslon, Lloyd Ferguson, Joseph Casanova, Asmik Oganesyan, Lisa Bautista, and Lewis Hall, who have had high expectations of me and supported my achievements to levels beyond what I thought possible. I have received unearned grace through their friendship.

I must highlight Anthony Andreoli and Anthony Fratiello, two senior faculty members who took me as a new assistant professor under their wings and taught me much. Through being mentored, I learned to mentor. They became my role models and my friends. Tony Fratiello graciously and selflessly coordinated preparation of my nomination for this award.

To my parents Maria Mena de Gutierrez and Joaquin Gutierrez Ramirez, who showed me that God endows with us all sorts of talents and graces, but that without hard work and achievement, it hardly matters; who taught me that we have a responsibility to family and humanity; who loved me and supported my guided and misguided efforts to find my way. To my sisters Virginia, Carolina, Carmen, Maria Eugenia, Nora, and Rosio, and my brother Luis Angel. They have sweetened my triumphs and softened my failures and have loved me through both. To Dr. R. Bryan Miller, my Ph.D. mentor, who understood that science and art are just two aspects of human creativity and encouraged me to develop both. To my godfather, F. Richard Sheffield, who first opened my eyes to the beauty and structure of science.

To those who fill my life and make it especially worthwhile: my daughters, Naomi Gabriela and Carolina Aurora, who give me more joy, satisfaction and pride than a man rightly deserves; and to Dr. Linda M. Tunstad, my colleague and wife, my life partner. She takes my breath away.

Let me leave you with a quote from colleague and friend Tony Andreoli that relates to the important, though secondary, role of the teacher and mentor: "Remember that we are developers of talent, not its creators. Talent . . . that belongs to the students!"

Thank you for this great honor.