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Caltech Establishes Shirley M. Malcom Prize for Excellence in Mentoring

Nominations for the inaugural award are due by April 1, 2022

Published on Sunday, October 17, 2021 | 6:08 am

To recognize and celebrate the important role mentors serve during the education, training, and advancement of promising students and scientists, the Institute has established the Shirley M. Malcom Prize for Excellence in Mentoring. The prize honors senior trustee Shirley Malcom’s long-standing commitment, via her personal mentorship, national leadership, and international advocacy, to make STEM education and access equitable for all.

The Malcom Prize follows a specific recommendation by the Advisory Committee on Student Admissions and Recruitment that the Institute establish a prize to celebrate, at the highest level, the importance of mentoring. The committee, chaired by Frank and Ora Lee Marble Professor of Mechanical Engineering Tim Colonius, included in its final report a recommendation that the Institute establish a mentoring award that would “serve to further emphasize Caltech’s institutional commitment to student success and diversity, and recognize individuals who contribute to that goal.”

“To meet Shirley Malcom is to be inspired by her,” says Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. “That inspiration can be found on a broad range of topics of import and enduring impact, from science and national policy to social justice and how to live one’s life. Shirley’s generosity of spirit will animate this new prize for mentoring, and underscore Caltech’s commitment to excellence, diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM.”

All members of the Institute’s faculty are eligible for the $5,000 Malcom Prize, to be awarded annually to a professor who, through mentoring, supports the achievement and well-being of students. The prize is to be the Institute’s highest honor for faculty mentors.

Criteria include but are not limited to effective mentoring practices, such as offering regular feedback, guidance, and advice; providing access to academic and professional information, resources, and opportunities; and helping to ensure a safe, encouraging, and inclusive environment for all students.

“I am very excited that Caltech has chosen to recognize the importance of mentoring to success in science and engineering,” says Malcom. “I am humbled to have my name associated with this award. My own early education in poor, under-resourced schools in the segregated South did not prepare me for the culture of the sciences that I entered, and had it not been for mentors—faculty who believed in me and saw possibilities, staff who encouraged me, and advisors who nurtured my scholarly and professional growth—I would never have made it through.”

In addition to serving as a senior trustee on Caltech’s Board of Trustees, Malcom is a senior advisor to the CEO and director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s SEA Change initiative, which “aims to advance institutional transformation in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion, especially in colleges and universities.” In addition, she is a regent of Morgan State University, a member of the State University of New York Research Council, and a former member of the National Science Board. She also served on President Bill Clinton’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.

A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Malcom received a PhD in ecology from Penn State University, a master’s degree in zoology from UCLA, and bachelor’s degree with distinction in zoology from the University of Washington.

“In light of the support and mentoring I received in my own career, I feel a strong obligation to pay it forward,” adds Malcom. “Having the ability to support student success, especially for those furthest from opportunity, is its own reward; but adding to that the recognition of the Caltech community underscores the importance of mentoring to building an equitable, diverse, and inclusive institution.”

Nomination Process

Nominations for the Malcom Prize, which are now open and due no later than April 1, 2022, may be made by Caltech faculty, students, postdoctoral scholars, and alumni. Nominees not selected in a given year will be considered part of the nomination pool for two years after. Consideration of a nominee after three years will require renomination.

Selection of the recipient will be made by a committee appointed by the provost that consists of at least three professorial faculty, a vice provost, and one representative each from the undergraduate student body, the graduate student body, and the postdoctoral community. Awardees will join the committee one year after they receive the prize. The assistant vice provost and director of Student-Faculty Programs will serve as ex officio members. The prize will be presented at a regular meeting of the Caltech faculty in the third term of each academic year.

Nomination packages should include a letter of nomination of no more than 750 words with up to five additional letters from students and colleagues of no more than 500 words. Nomination packages should be emailed to, with “Malcom Prize Nomination” in the subject line.

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