By: Mollie Lastovica
Recognized for their commitment to underrepresented populations and students, Associate Professor Manuel Piña, Ph.D. and Professor Carlos Gonzalez, Ph.D., received the 2013 Deans Outstanding Achievement Award for Diversity.
Created in 2012, the Deans Outstanding Achievement Awards recognize administrators, faculty, staff and student for their efforts in bettering the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Piña has worked and taught in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications since 1974. In his 29 years in the department, he has made great strides in championing underrepresented students in their academic pursuits.
In 1998, Piña initiated the Hispanic Leaders in Agriculture and Environment Fellows program, which received funding on the national level. His work with the program over the years led to an expansion to four additional universities in 2006.
Across the five campuses, the program has attracted 145 master’s and doctoral students with interest in positively impacting the Hispanic population in the United States through the agricultural and environmental fields. Of those students, 99 have attended Texas A&M University.
“The program that best exemplifies Dr. Piña’s partnership building efforts is the Hispanic Leadership in Agriculture and Environment Fellows program,” said Gonzalez. “Dr. Piña has brought together faculty from all departments within the college and the system to build and implement programs that promote diversity.”
In the nomination packet submitted for Piña and Gonzalez, Jack Elliot, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head for the ALEC Department and Leland Sandy Pierson, Ph.D., Professor and Department Head for the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, drew attention to the men’s influence on the diversification of the college.
“These two faculty have worked side-by-side as strong and consistent promoters of research and educational opportunities for under-represented students in the college and Texas A&M,” Elliot and Pierson said in their nomination letter. “The level of commitment by Dr. Gonzalez and Dr. Piña to the goal of increasing student diversity in the college is truly impressive.”
Despite the acclaim he has received for his work, Piña sees diversity as a duty, nothing more than what the land grant university system was created to include.
“If you look back to the original language of the land grant system, you will see that this university was created with the intention of educating everyone, including the non-elite,” Piña said. “I believe that the concept of having a diverse student population should be ingrained, because that is why this institution was created in the first place.”
Piña is quick to acknowledge the faculty members who have worked alongside him to achieve big goals.
“The faculty are the worker bees—the ones who do the heavy lifting with recruiting, retaining and graduating minority graduate students,” Piña said. “I would walk over hot coals for the faculty members who have recruited, mentored and graduated these students. This award is a reflection of their efforts.”
Along with a framed plaque, Piña received a cash award for his recognition. He plans to donate the money to the Texas A&M University Hispanic Network as part of his five-year personal commitment to the organization. He is grateful for the people within the college who have worked hard to promote ethnic diversity among the students and looks forward to more faculty joining the effort in the future.
“I would like to see that my efforts raised consciousness among faculty,” Piña said. “It is more about how you create external conditions for people to get into the environment, feel things on their own and change themselves rather than telling people to change.”
Piña hopes that his work will be known for helping minority students achieve their educational dreams and pursue what they are capable of.
“I hope to raise consciousness about the fact that there are many minority students who are capable, hardworking and productive,” Piña said. “I have tried to focus on what matters, not numbers. I ask, in doing this work, ‘did you change attitudes, change perceptions, change enthusiasm, change hope?’”