Photo courtesy of Steve Alas

Biology professor recognized for receiving CSU’s top honor

By Jocelyn Reyes, Feb. 14, 2023

Biology Professor Steve Alas received one of the California State University’s highest honors, “The Wang Family Excellence Award,” for being one of the top outstanding faculty members who has dedicated his time to helping students succeed.  

The Wang Family Excellence Award was awarded to five other CSU faculty members and one staff member from different universities, with Alas being one of the faculty members awarded with a stipend of $20,000. The award recognizes faculty members at CSU who excel in their specialized fields and have provided high-quality instruction.  

“Being an award so big, it was impossible to not share it with the mentors, professors and mother who have taught me the skills I have now. It must be a group award; it cannot just be me. They earned it as much as I had. So more than anything I feel surprised, gratitude and the idea that my mentors and I shared in all of this,” Alas said.  

With Alas being a first-generation Cal Poly Pomona alumnus, he has always wanted to be a professor and strived to do so during his time at CPP. He was then introduced to Science Educational Enhancement Services, a student support program, that was established by Paul Hiemenz. 

 As the program director, Hiemenz served as Alas’ mentor and guided him throughout college.   

“Dr. Hiemenz changed that world and offered another. I found myself being part of a student community, one in which we all helped each other climb. Dr. Hiemenz opened more doors than we knew existed,” said Alas. “He funneled us to summer research programs at universities across the country. As scientists, we became better.” 

Alas ultimately became the director of SEES, BioTiER, the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, the Scholars Program in Research, Education & Science and Discovery Camp Programs. He has long thrived to succeed with enthusiasm through his service to educate students as much as possible creating different opportunities for students to achieve their goals throughout college and after graduation to prepare students to learn the skills not taught in the classroom. 

All the programs in SEES have managed to incorporate the same help and advantages for student that he had while he was a student. These programs support underrepresented minorities and socioeconomic background students by providing training, researching, mentoring and scholarships to help students achieve degrees in STEM fields. 

Image courtesy of Steve Alas

Alas received a couple of grants to help students create programs that will be resources that can help those who want to pursue any of the STEM fields. 

With a dedication to researching and mentoring thousands of students, especially underrepresented first-generation students, in science and engineering, Alas has been able to see all the opportunities students are receiving by seeing them walk during commencement, receiving master’s degrees, Ph.D.s or professional programs like medical and vet schools.  

“When I look at their accomplishments that’s what I am most proud of because they are the reason why we are here, we’re only here as servants, to serve students,” said Alas.  

Throughout the process of teaching and mentoring, Alas has strived to serve students’ lives for several years now by opening doors to students who are pursuing an education in STEM. The motivation behind helping students achieve their goals is because he is passing it forward.  

“I’m a huge person of faith, my wife and I and our church life has a lot to do on how we carry ourselves but for me when I ask myself what does God want of me and I think he would want me to give everything to the next generation,” said Alas. “That’s probably what pushes me most.” 

Feature image courtesy of Steve Alas

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