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Turner Fellowship Program Celebrates 25th Anniversary
Alumni of program for underrepresented grad students to gather for day-long event on October 5

Sergio Argueta was a gang member in his teens. He got kicked out of high school and lost two friends to gang violence and a third to prison before he woke up and turned his life around.

Sergio Argueta“That’s what it took for me to realize that gang life was not for me,” says Argueta, who earned his Master’s in Social Welfare at Stony Brook in 2006 with the aid of a Turner Fellowship. The Underrepresented Graduate Fellowship Program was established in 1987 by The State of New York Legislature, with Stony Brook choosing to name its program after W. Burghardt Turner, a former professor of history who was dedicated to supporting Stony Brook's underrepresented students seeking advanced academic degrees. The program turns 25 this year.

Argueta went on to dedicate his professional career to helping other young people stay out of gangs. He founded and directed Struggling to Reunite our New Generation (STRONG), a gang prevention and intervention agency built upon Argueta’s belief that community empowerment through education is the solution to defeating gang violence. He participates in Breaking the Cycle, an organization formed in 1999 in response to the Columbine High School shootings.

Today Argueta is the Undergraduate Program Director at Adelphi University’s School of Social Work and a second-year law student in the Touro Law Program. When he became a Turner Fellow in 2004, Argueta already had the passion and commitment to create change, but his professional education provided him with the skills and knowledge to do his work.

Dr. Burghardt TurnerCelebrating the Turner Fellowship
The Turner Fellowship Program has graduated nearly 400 underrepresented students from Stony Brook’s masters, doctoral and professional degree programs. With diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds, Turner Fellows have been part of every graduate program at the University – the biological, physical and social sciences, medicine, humanities, engineering and the arts. And they have gone on to serve as leaders in scholarship, research and public service in all areas of society. The program currently supports more than 75 students through financial assistance and professional development.

“A great deal has been achieved in the first 25 years, but we have not reached our ultimate goals,” says Charles Taber, Interim Dean of the Graduate School. “Inequity of opportunity remains a problem, and we must continue to promote fair representation of people from all cultures and ethnicities, especially those who have been historically underrepresented in the academic and research professions.”

The Turner Fellowship program is celebrating its 25th anniversary on October 5, 2012 with a day-long symposium that includes reflection talks by Turner alumni, morning and afternoon breakout sessions, art and music sessions, a networking lunch and a gala dinner. The event will be held on campus in the Charles B. Wang Center. The event also features a special guest speaker, Frances Colón, PhD, Deputy Science and Technology Advisor to US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

The program is namerd for the late Dr. W. Burghardt Turner, emeritus professor of history at Stony Brook and influential advocate for Civil Rights on Long Island. Dr. Turner was known for his tireless struggle for human and civil rights on Long Island including considerable efforts to help establish the Suffolk County chapter of the NAACP. He was pursuing a doctoral degree in History when the need to support his young family overshadowed this pursuit. Unfortunately, due to many of the economic and social obstacles that the Turner Fellowship now works to overcome, he was unable to finish his dissertation. In 2007, Stony Brook University granted Dr. Turner a well-deserved Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Success stories
Jay GoffLike Sergio Argueta, Arthur James Goff III grew up amid violence and crime. His mother worked two jobs, leaving Goff on his own to battle neighborhood bullies and avoid gunfights. His mom sent him to a private high school across town, where an interest in science took hold.

Goff reached a turning point during chemistry class. After his teacher publicly chastised him for being “no good at science” and telling him he didn’t belong there, he decided to prove her wrong. He graduated from high school with AP classes in physics and biology, earned a BS in recombinant gene technology, and–with the help of a Turner Fellowship–received a PhD in genetics in 2004. Goff now works at the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, the premier government biodefense research laboratory.

Mireya MayorScientist and explorer Mireya Mayor’s Turner Fellowship helped her to earn a PhD from the Interdepartmental Program in Anthropological Sciences in 2008. The daughter of Cuban immigrants, Mayor became the first female wildlife correspondent for National Geographic Television’s “Ultimate Explorer” series. While at Stony Brook, Mayor completed the first ever long-term genetic studies of two critically endangered primates and co-discovered a new species of mouse lemur in Madagascar. She has received two Emmy Award nominations for her television work and currently hosts Wild Nights with Mireya Mayor on National Geographic’s new channel, Wild!

Nilsson Holguin

With a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, Nilsson Holguin developed a passion for science and math while in high school, when his sharp intellect helped him outwit bullies and survive life amid gangs, crime and drugs. Latino with Colombian heritage, Holguin came to Stony Brook already involved in research from his undergraduate years as an engineering major. He participated in the National Science Foundation’s Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program and won the prestigious NASA Harriett Jenkins Fellowship after becoming a Turner Fellow and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University in the department of orthopedic surgery.

The Turner alumni profiled here are just a few of the hundreds of success stories to be celebrated in October. For more information about the Turner Fellowship Program’s silver anniversary, and to register, visit their website.

See also: Press Release


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