MHC's Packard Receives Presidential Award at White House Ceremony

Monday, June 13, 2005 - 12:00

For immediate release:
June 13, 2005

Award has been called "'Golden Globe Awards' for the Albert Einsteins and Marie Curies of tomorrow"

Becky Packard
Becky Packard

At a White House ceremony Monday, June 13, Mount Holyoke College Assistant Professor Becky Wai-Ling Packard received the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on young scientists--the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE)--for her groundbreaking work examining the impact of locally based community organizations, mentoring, and home and school environments on the transition of low-income urban youth from high school to post-secondary education or work.

Packard, a psychology and education professor, is the only one of this year's 20 National Science Foundation-designated PECASE winners to represent a liberal arts college and the field of educational research.

Packard was one of approximately 360 young scientists who received a 2004 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). CAREER grants range from $400,000 to $1 million, and are the organization's most noted awards for early career scientists who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of their institution's mission. CAREER awardees form the pool for NSF's potential PECASE nominees. This year, 20 of the most meritorious NSF-funded researchers received the PECASE award, based on their innovative projects and leadership potential, and were invited to the White House for a ceremony in their honor. In addition to the NSF-designated PECASE awardees, the White House also honored 38 other PECASE recipients, designated by a number of other federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and NASA.

"I am very excited and overwhelmed by this level of recognition," said Packard, who is to be accompanied by her father at the White House ceremony on Monday afternoon. "My collaborators, student assistants, and I hope our work will challenge stereotypes about urban low-income youth and raise awareness that many are actively involved in their own education, as well as help to identify ways for schools, parents, and community organizations to support them."

Packard brought her entire family to a second recognition ceremony the following day, Tuesday, June 14, at the National Science Foundation.

Packard's 2004 CAREER grant, for $441,530, was awarded to study the educational aspirations, mentoring, and learning of low-income youth in science and technology. Her five-year project, "Educational Trajectories of Low-Income Urban Youth in Science and Technology," focuses on working-class youth in Holyoke and Springfield.

She is particularly interested in how young people participate in science and technology over time, including their pursuit of trades or college degrees in these fields. In addition, she is considering the positive role that mentoring relationships and community organizations may have in the lives of young people. Packard said she is grateful to many community organizations, especially her long-time collaborator Girls Incorporated of Holyoke, MA, for the support and insight they have provided. Through her work, Packard will continue to design mentoring programs that bring together Mount Holyoke College students and youth in the community.

PECASE awards were established in February 1996 in order to meet the goals of recognizing some of the nation's finest scientists and engineers and maintaining U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific research into the twenty-first century. The awards are given to foster innovative and influential developments in science and technology, to increase awareness of careers in science and engineering, and to recognize the scientific missions of the federal agencies. NSF awardees have demonstrated a special commitment to the integration of research and education.

"These Presidential awardees are the young people who will lead our nation’s progress in science and engineering as they leap the fences, cross the boundaries, and build the blocks of new and exciting areas of science," said Arden L. Bement, Jr., NSF director. "They also pass on to many students their imaginative thinking, built into creative educational activities--a form of leadership that can influence career choices and help invigorate the science and engineering enterprise."

Becky Packard
Professor Packard fourth from the left, second row

As part of the first generation in her family to graduate from a four-year college, Packard is surprised by how her own career path has unfolded. She said, "I certainly did not imagine that I would one day be going to the White House to receive an award for my work on educational aspirations and mentoring. It is unbelievable."

Packard, who came to Mount Holyoke College in 1999, is the first Mount Holyoke professor to receive a PECASE award. She is one of five to receive a CAREER grant. The other four are Jill Bubier, Marjorie Fisher Associate Professor of Environmental Studies; Craig Woodard, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences; Janice Hudgings, Associate Professor of Physics; and Sean Decatur, Marilyn Dawson Sarles, M.D. Professor of Life Sciences and Professor of Chemistry.

More on Professor Packard and her work may be found at: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/csj/031204/packard.shtml