Astrophysicist Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz wins 2023 AAAS Mentor Award

Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz (Photo by Steve Kurtz)

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has awarded the 2023 AAAS Mentor Award to Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz.

The award recognizes Ramirez-Ruiz for his direct mentoring of students and for the impact of the national program he created. Between the two, Ramirez-Ruiz has reached more than half of the students from minoritized groups who have received a Ph.D. in astronomy in the last five years.

"This award is an extraordinary honor,” said Ramirez-Ruiz, who holds UCSC’s Vera Rubin Presidential Chair for Diversity in Astronomy. “I hope my greatest contribution to science is not any particular discovery, but the creation of a new way of thinking that enables students from racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse families to make their own discoveries."

The AAAS awards for mentoring honor individuals who have mentored significant numbers of underrepresented students and have demonstrated scholarship, activism, and community-building on behalf of underrepresented groups in STEM, as well as impacting the climate of a department, college, or institution to have significantly increased the diversity of students pursuing or completing Ph.D.s in STEM.

Ramirez-Ruiz has directly mentored 12 bachelor’s and master’s students from underrepresented backgrounds who went on to receive a Ph.D., as well as seven underrepresented students who he mentored through their Ph.D. programs. He has also been a research adviser for more than 200 students, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty.

Ramirez-Ruiz created a mentoring program at UCSC called Lamat (Mayan for “star”), which is now a nationwide program supporting community college students who transfer to four-year institutions and continue on to graduate studies in astronomy. Those reached by the program are disproportionately women and historically marginalized populations—83% of the 93 participants since the program’s founding. Lamat has been transformative in increasing the number of historically marginalized students earning Ph.D.s in astrophysics.

In 2022, Ramirez-Ruiz was honored by the White House with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. He has also received numerous awards for his research in astrophysics, including the HEAD Mid-Career Prize from the American Astronomical Society, and he is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.