2022 UCLA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Research Award

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Biochemistry Professor Steven Clarke has been chosen for the UCLA Academic Senate’s 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Research Award.

The UCLA Academic Senate selected Professor Steven Clarke for the DEI Research Award to pay tribute to the tremendous efforts he has made toward diversity and to acknowledge his many contributions to and accomplishments in fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment at UCLA.

“Steve has set a superb example of using his research to expand the diversity of the scientific workforce,” said UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry Department Chair Professor Neil Garg. “He is extremely well-deserving of this award.”

Over the span of his 43-year career at UCLA, Clarke has been a world leader in the field of protein biochemistry and, more specifically, protein post-translational modifications that have been linked to human disease. He has mentored a diverse group of research students in his laboratory, including ~58 PhD students, ~100 undergraduate researchers, and ~24 postdoctoral fellows. A large portion of these trainees have been women, underrepresented students, and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Almost all of his trainees have continued in science careers and are now training the next generation of scientists.

Recent alumni of the Clarke research group.

“Dr. Clarke fully embodies the mission of the UCLA Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award Research on Diversity,” said co-nominator Professor Jorge Torres. “His impact on improving DEI in the sciences, specifically with regards to students, is unparalleled. I cannot think of a more deserving individual for this award.”

Beyond his exemplary scientific career and his impact on students in his lab, Clarke has had a life-long interest in developing the next generation of diverse leaders in science. For 30 years, he directed the NIH-sponsored UCLA Cellular and Molecular Biology Training Program with uninterrupted funding (1988-2018) and led this program into enhanced support for underrepresented students, outreach programs to the community, and the development of research integrity courses.

“The enrichment of minority students in Dr. Clarke’s lab is no coincidence – it is due to his ability to reach and retain underrepresented students by making them feel welcomed, deserving, and providing an exceptional opportunity!” said co-nominator Dr. Tara Gomez-Hampton ’05, Associate Director of Medical Affairs, Biosense Webster (Johnson & Johnson), who conducted research in the Clarke group as an undergraduate and post-baccalaureate student.

Throughout his career, Clarke has worked to increase diversity, both in his laboratory and in recruitment and outreach efforts for UCLA. For his graduate and undergraduate students, he has not only mentored their scientific training but has been especially attentive to ensuring they are aware of career opportunities that will lead to their strengthening the diversity of the scientific workforce. Since 2015, he has been a member of the departmental Biochemistry Graduate Committee and has been heavily involved in recruiting underrepresented students to the department’s Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology (BMSB) graduate program.

“I fondly remember writing my first scientific paper when I was a graduate student in Steve’s lab,” said co-nominator Dr. Jamil Momand (BA ’83, Ph.D. ’89), Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, California State University, Los Angeles. “He sat down with me in front of the computer screen and showed me, step by step, how to improve my draft so that it would be acceptable for publication. That left an indelible impression. I’ve had an active research lab at Cal State LA for more than 20 years now, and the vast majority of my students have been underrepresented minority students, of whom 20 have entered into Ph.D. programs. I apply Steve’s mentoring principles when I interact with my own students: excitement about the research coupled with genuine interest in their well-being. The legacy of Steve is that his mentoring has had a strong affect on the second generation of diverse students.”

Clarke’s awards and achievements include the American Chemical Society Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry, a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health, a Senior Scholar Award in Aging from the Ellison Medical Foundation, the William C. Rose Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and selection as the 107th Faculty Research Lecturer at UCLA. He is a recipient of the UCLA Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award, including the Eby Award for the Art of Teaching.

“Steve cares deeply about each underrepresented student, always treating them as an individual with a compelling story to tell,” said co-nominator former masters student Dr. Billy Tsai (M.S. ’94), the Corydon Ford Collegiate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Michigan Medical School. “I think he also believes that these stories bring tremendous value – perhaps intangible at times – that ultimately strengthen the experience of other students around them. There is no doubt in my mind that mentorship is truly one of Steve’s most precious gifts to our field.”

“I truly cannot imagine a more perfect candidate for the award,” said co-nominator Dr. Christine A. Hrycyna (Ph.D. ‘93), now the 150th Anniversary Professor and first female Department Head of the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University. “Not only has Steve sustained a highly impressive level of novel research in biochemistry and molecular biology over the past forty-three years, but he has also been instrumental in mentoring and launching the careers of entire generations of scientists, including mine, with a special devotion to training women and students from traditionally underrepresented groups.”