CAHSEE Receives Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring

For immediate release
May 6, 2004
CONTACT: Margarita Studemeister (301) 918-1014

(Washington, D.C.)—The White House announced today the selection of The Center for the Advancement of Hispanics in Science and Engineering Educations as recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). The award is reserved for successful programs devoting sustained efforts in the public good, mentoring the nation’s future technical and scientific leadership. The award was presented to Charles E. Vela, President and founder of CAHSEE, at a private White House ceremony. The Presidential Award, the highest recognition in the nation, is conferred upon the recommendation of the National Science Foundation, after a selection process by the country’s scientific, engineering and academic communities, and former awardees.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) comes at the heels of another recognition by BEST (Building Engineering and Science Talent), in a report presented at Congress on April 29, 2004, acknowledged and uniquely identified CAHSEE’s pre-college program, the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Institute, for its promising practices in increasing the admission of students into undergraduate math, science, and engineering studies, and for the superior college completion rates of participants.

This award is a recognition of Charles Vela’s dedication to cultivating and promoting science and engineering education among Latino youth and other underrepresented minorities, primarily African Americans.

In 1992, Vela founded CAHSEE to develop a cohesive core of Latino technical and scientific leaders, and to prepare them to address the complex problems in science and technology facing the nation and the world community. CAHSEE has pioneered a comprehensive system of model programs that supports the academic advancement of students from elementary school through doctoral studies. Twenty-nine of CAHSEE; Alumni have received, are currently enrolled, or have been accepted in doctoral programs at some of the nation’s leading research institutions*.

Vela’s system of model programs has been expanded to the University of El Salvador, and plans are underway to expand to the rest of Central America.

Dr. Joe Barba, Deputy Provost of the City University of New York, notes: “A student that comes in Charles’ sphere of influence will always have the benefit of his caring and advice. It is this dedication and support that has enabled many of his students to enter graduate programs and a large number of them to pursue PhDs. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with many of these very capable and successful students, both males and females, and find it remarkable how they identified with … Charles’ mission of academic excellence, civic responsibility, and determination to end Latino, African American and Native American under-representation in science and engineering… The nation and the Latino community are highly indebted to Charles for his work and accomplishments in developing diversity in the technical and scientific community.”

Dr. Noe Lozano, Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Stanford University, observes: “Students, who have great talent but need extra guidance, relentless motivation, and a focused strategy to remain in science, math, and engineering, and to advance to graduate school, appreciate Charles’ mentoring style. I have personally admired from afar Charles’ ability to take students at Stanford or other universities across the country… and move them from “C” average students to B+ or A students.”

Dr. Carla Trujillo of UC Berkeley remarks: “…the students I’ve met, who grew up in the CAHSEE system, and many of whom were and are Berkeley students, are all talented and hard working. But they also possess a remarkable sense of self-awareness, confidence, and a zest for knowledge…. He has high expectations of his students and has been fortunate to see the majority of them having gone farther than even they had anticipated.”

“Mentorship is extremely important for reaching the top in any endeavor,” says Vela, “especially in science and engineering which require an apprenticeship period to guide the individual to explore, discover and create by him/herself, with little or no specific direction. I have had the fortune and privilege of having had mentors throughout my career: Professor Michael O’Flynn, who was my undergraduate and graduate advisor, and a professor of Electrical Engineering at the California State University at San Jose; Dr. Sergio Fuentes-Maya, who was my doctoral advisor and professor of Operations Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM); and especially, Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, currently Rector of the University of El Salvador, who has been my professional and ethical mentor since my early days as a graduate student and engineer. More recently, I have had the privilege of the opportune advice and support of Raul Yzaguirre, President of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). Not only have these individuals taught me subject matter, they have also inspired me to strive for excellence by their example and affection, and have challenged my limitations and capabilities.”

Vela is an accomplished research and development engineering scientist with service in some of the nation’s premier think tanks including the National Academy of Sciences, where he worked in the development of a long-term strategy for the mapping of the brain for scientific research and clinical applications; and in Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs): The MITRE Corporation, Mitretek Systems, and the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IITRI), where, as Senior Science Advisor, he achieved one of highest scientific positions in the country. Today, Vela is an entrepreneur, who recently established Expertech Solutions, a high-tech company focusing on strategic consulting and technical innovations. He serves as President and Chief Scientist of Expertech Solutions.

In the last fifteen years, Vela has been a leading advisor to the Federal government on the transformation and modernization of government processes, and the design and acquisition of strategic technologies. He has advised some of the most complex, large-scale and protracted government multi-billion programs, including the modernization of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and the modernization of the Federal Telecommunications System.

Currently Vela’s areas of research include: enterprise architecture and best engineering practices in the acquisition, development and deployment of high technologies; strategic enterprise-wide cyber security; knowledge-based management and decision support systems; performance engineering of multi-tier, multi-technology, geographically distributed complex information and computational systems; staffing requirements for the development, enhancement and maintenance of complex information and computational systems; computer tools for the analysis and synthesis of huge data sets, mathematical models for telecommunications traffic and cost forecasting, and mathematical models call center optimization. He holds advanced degrees in Electrical Engineering and Operations Research from the California State University, San Jose and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), respectively.

Vela has served on numerous committees, commissions, boards, and studies, including the Presidential and Congressional Commission on Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, where he represented the Speaker of the House, Congressman Dennis J. Hastert; The National Academy of Sciences’ Committee to Evaluate the National Institutes of Heath (NIH) Minority Programs; The National Research Council’s Knowledge Assessment Committee; the National Science Foundation's Model Institutions of Excellence; The National Commission of Technology Education; The Board of Governors of the Latino Science and Engineering Consortium; the committee charged with the development of the research policy of the University of El Salvador; The National Council of La Raza; and The Hispanic Council of International Relations, among others. Charles Vela has written, published and presented numerous papers and reports on technical and education related subjects. He has received many awards for his technical contributions, and his contributions in science and engineering education, including the Vice Presidential National Performance Review Hammer Award in 1996, given for the first time to non-government employees, for his contributions to the modernization of the Federal Telecommunications System; The Junipero Serra Award, 1997, the highest recognition given by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) to one of its peers for sustained efforts and success in channeling Latinos into science and engineering careers; and most recently, a Meritorious Award from the Ministry of Education in El Salvador, for his contribution towards the development of the Center for Academic Excellence in Science, Engineering and Mathematics at the University of El Salvador.

Charles E. Vela was born in El Salvador to Manuel Vela Kegel, a Mexican immigrant to El Salvador, and Sofia Larios de Vela, a former public school teacher and principal in El Salvador. Vela grew up in San Francisco, where he migrated with his family in 1960. He currently lives with his wife, Margarita Studemeister, in Potomac, Maryland. He is the father of Patricio, a recent engineering PhD graduate from the California Institute of Technology; Veronica, a graduate of Georgia Tech, who is currently pursuing a doctorate in engineering at UC Berkeley; and Adam, a recent UC Berkeley graduate who next fall will become a doctoral engineering student at Stanford University.

*Caltech, MIT, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Georgetown University, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, Arizona State, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, University of Southern California, University of Arizona, University of Illinois, Notre Dame, the Mayo Clinic, Northwestern University, City College of New York, Columbia, Iowa State, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Texas at Austin, among others


About CAHSEE: CAHSEE’s mission is to prepare talented Hispanic American and other underrepresented minority college and pre-college students, primarily African Americans, to achieve academic excellence, and professional success and leadership in science and engineering. CAHSEE’s programs include the STEM Institute, the Young Educators Program (YEP) Fellowship, The Young Engineer and Scientist Program (YESP), and SAT/SOAR. CAHSEE is funded primarily through the generosity of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Other funders have included Verizon Communications, the Inter-American Development Bank, Fannie Mae Foundation, The Meyer Foundation, and Sun Microsystems Foundation. More information about CAHSEE can be found at

Charles Vela is available for interviews, presentations, and seminars on science and engineering education. For information, please call 301 918 1014 or contact:
Margarita Studemeister

Those wishing to form partnerships with CAHSEE may also contact Ms. Studemeister.

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