Biological Sciences Professor Steve Alas has helped thousands of students enter graduate school and launch careers in STEM fields.

These Cal Poly Pomona students, many from modest means and the first in their families to attend college, gain the confidence and technical skills critical for graduate school and their careers by participating in programs Alas oversees.

“He’s a champion for our students,” says Associate Provost Sep Eskandari. “He channels all his creativity and energy for students.”

The California State University recently presented Alas with the Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award and a $5,000 prize.

The biological science department also received $10,000 for professional activities.

“I stand on the shoulders of 50 people across my lifetime,” says Alas (’94, biology). “What I think of is all the people from my mentor to my mom. This is all of our award.”

Alas, in his 15th year teaching at Cal Poly Pomona, is director of Science Educational Enhancement Services (SEES), which serves historically low socioeconomic, underrepresented minority students in the College of Science. SEES provides mentoring, paid research fellowships, a First Year Experience course and workshops to assist students enrolled in advanced courses. Students also find a supportive peer community.

Chemistry Professor Paul Hiemenz established SEES in 1987. As a Cal Poly Pomona student and SEES participant in the 1990s, Alas found camaraderie among fellow students who assisted each other in their academic journeys and offered guidance as he entered UCLA’s graduate program.

In Hiemenz, Alas found a professor, a mentor and a father figure.

“Dr. Paul Hiemenz took us all under his wings,” he says. “I would not be here today without him.”

Alas says he could never repay Hiemenz for all he did, but leading and growing the program that his professor founded is a way of honoring him.

After earning his doctoral degree at UCLA, Alas conducted research at the City of Hope but wanted to teach in the CSU. His dream came true when he joined the Cal Poly Pomona faculty. In 2013 he was named SEES director.

Alas also oversees the university’s Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and was instrumental in establishing Discovery Camps, a summer program offering tracks in computer and app programming, robotics, science, entrepreneurship and horse riding.

His research grants and fellowships include the NSF Biological Training in Education and Research Scholar program, as well as the five-year, $1 million NSF Scholars Program in Research, Education and Science. He is the 2018-19 recipient of the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Service at Cal Poly Pomona.

Alas says he loves his alma mater and its students.

“This isn’t my job, this is my home,” he says. “When I walk around campus, I see myself in the students.”

By Monica Rodriguez
Published February 7, 2020