For more than 22 years, the Suffolk County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission has maintained a commitment to promoting the principles and philosophies of Dr. King. This year, the Commission recognized Dr. Bonita London, Department of Psychology, and Toni Sperzel, Center for Inclusive Education (CIE), as recipients of the 2017 Public Service Award based on their demonstrated record of dedication to civil rights. The two were honored at a luncheon held on Friday, January 13, 2017 at The UpSky Long Island Hotel.
Dr. London, a social and personality psychologist, has dedicated her research and scholarship over the past 10 years to studying the psychosocial mechanisms that can either impede or promote success among historically underrepresented groups (on the basis of gender, race, and sexual orientation). Her research explores the impact of identity, motivation, and institutional messages of inclusion on students’ success and achievement at the undergraduate, graduate, and pre-professional levels, and has been used as a foundation for innovations in many colleges and universities.
She partnered with CIE to use social science research to help identify and address issues of student engagement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields at the undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels.
“Dr. London has played a pivotal role in the development of a new and extremely important field of applied research: STEM identity and academic success,” said Charles Taber, Vice Provost for Graduate and Professional Education. “In a strong and consistent set of studies, Bonita and her colleagues have found that the academic success of women and underrepresented minority students in STEM fields is powerfully influenced by whether they feel they belong as scientists in their fields. This fundamental finding is important for our basic understanding of the interactions between social identity and context, but it is critical to our applied understanding of how to design interventions to diversify the academy.”
Beyond the classroom, Dr. London serves as faculty advisor for the undergraduate Psychology Student Alliance, an organization that promotes underrepresented student engagement in the field of Psychology at Stony Brook. She has mentored many undergraduate and graduate students who have pursued and completed graduate degrees.
Dr. London also contributes to various committees within the University that are aimed at addressing diversity and inclusion needs across the campus, promoting STEM education, and addressing challenges to degree completion among undergraduates.
“Bonita is one of Stony Brook University’s heroes,” said Nina Maung-Gaona, Associate Vice President for Research and Co-Investigator of NSF AGEP (former Assistant Dean for Diversity and former Director of the Center for Inclusive Education). “She has a clear vision for what access to opportunities in STEM could mean for a diverse society rooted in equality and the critical role that top research universities like Stony Brook must play toward making that vision a reality.”
Currently the Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the Graduate School and Director of CIE, Toni Sperzel joined CIE in 2007 as Program Coordinator, and later Program Manager, of the Dr. W. Burghardt Turner Fellowship program. A unit within the Graduate School, CIE is committed to advancing diversity and inclusion in graduate education, academia and the scientific workforce through recruitment, retention, professional development and community building efforts.
“Toni possess core values that are critical for the kind of transformation that diversity initiatives work tirelessly to achieve,” said Maung-Gaona. “For one, she really listens carefully to what people are saying or trying to say. She is a staunch believer of, and advocate for, equity. And most importantly, she will roll up her sleeves and work in the trenches, or stand at a podium and engender trust and excitement for the task at hand.”
In addition to her work as Manager of the Turner Program, from 2010-2016 Toni also served as manager of Stony Brook’s participation in the National GEM Consortium, a fellowship program that enhances the value of the nation’s human capital by increasing the participation of underrepresented groups at the master’s and doctoral levels in engineering and science. She played a key role in the proposal submission that brought the GEM fellowship to Stony Brook University. Since that time, she has supported the writing and development of several winning National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Department of Education grant proposals submitted by the CIE and other Stony Brook departments focused on supporting the successful advancement of underrepresented scholars in graduate education and postdoctoral training.
— Rachel Rodriguez