CSU Northridge -- September 17, 2003
Professor Featured During KCET's Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration
When Maria Elena Zavala was in high school, her teachers told her to
take typing instead of math or science because Latinos didn’t
become mathematicians or scientists.
Today, Zavala has a doctorate in botany, is a biology professor at Cal
State Northridge and two years ago she was awarded a Presidential Award
for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering by former President
Zavala is one of eight individuals being honored this month by public
television station KCET for their contributions to the community.
Video profiles of Zavala and her fellow honorees are currently airing
on KCET as part of the station’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.
The eight are being recognized by KCET and Union Bank of California
as “Local Heroes” for their dedicated efforts in the social
services, business, arts, community activism and education.
Zavala said she was honored and humbled by her selection as a local
hero. “The credit really belongs to the young people who took
what tools I gave them and went on to successful careers,” she
said. “I am just among the first of many who opened doors to careers
in science and research for people who didn’t think it was possible.”
In addition to Zavala, the honorees include Pablo Alvarado, coordinator
for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network; Ana Soto Del Rio and
Fernando R. Del Rio, community activists and founders of the Teresa
Del Rio Memorial Blood Drive and Scholarship Fund; Tini Rodriguez, Luis
J. Rodriguez and Enrique Sanchez, co-founders of Tia Chucha’s
Café Cultural in Sylmar; and Jose Luis Valenzuela, artistic director
of the Latino Theater Company and a drama professor at UCLA.
“This year’s honorees reflect those elements that strengthen
our culture, community and nation,” said George Ramirez, senior
vice president and division executive for Union Bank. “They set
a good example individually and collectively for everyone to follow.
Their work and dedication is truly inspirational and admirable.”
“This annual event is a very special one for KCET because it gives
us the opportunity to honor local heroes who are making significant
contributions to our community,” said Al Jerome, president and
CEO of KCET. “KCET is committed to reflecting the diversity of
our region through both our programming and our community outreach endeavors.”
When Zavala received her Ph.D. nearly 25 years ago, she was the second
Latino in the country to earn such a degree. She said that statistics
today are not much better.
In response, Zavala, who joined Northridge’s faculty in 1988,
has built up the Minority Access to Research Careers and Minority Biomedical
Research Sciences programs in the university’s biology department.
Over the years, she has brought in more than $5 million in grants to
support both programs and has personally mentored more than 125 students.
Many of those students have gone on to earn doctoral degrees themselves.
In addition to her work on campus, Zavala also assists elementary school
teachers working with underprivileged children in making their science
classes more interesting.
Zavala received her undergraduate degree from Pomona College and her
doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley.
Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler,(818) 677-2130; firstname.lastname@example.org