Karen Burg, Harbor Lights Chair in Small Animal Medicine & Surgery and vice president for research at the University of Georgia, has been named a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.
President Joe Biden made the announcement Feb. 8, naming 117 teachers, mentors and mentoring organizations as recipients of the Presidential Awards, which honor their dedication and hard work, as well as the important roles they play in supporting future STEM professionals.
“I am deeply appreciative of the inspiration that America’s teachers and mentors provide every day to support the next generation of STEM professionals,” Biden said. “The dedication these individuals and organizations have demonstrated to prepare students for careers in STEM fields, during what has been a difficult time for teachers, students and families, plays a huge role in American innovation and competitiveness. The work that teachers and mentors do ensures that our nation’s children are able to unlock—for themselves and all of us—a world of possibilities.”
Burg is one of a dozen individuals, hailing from seven states, to receive the award that recognizes the critical role mentors play outside the traditional classroom in the academic and professional development of the future STEM workforce.
“I am honored to be involved in the lives of my students and am grateful to President Biden for recognizing the importance to all of us of teaching and mentoring future generations of STEM learners and professionals,” Burg said. “UGA has a strong tradition of serving learners both in and out of the classroom, and I’m proud to represent the university and the state in this distinguished group of recipients.”
The National Science Foundation, which manages the awards on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, provides each recipient with $10,000. Awardees also receive a certificate signed by the president.
Named vice president for research in 2021, Burg holds the Harbor Lights Chair in Biomedical Research in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Her research focuses on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, with implications for diagnosing and treating diseases such as cancer. Her research has been supported by more than $20 million in grants, and she is the author of nearly 120 peer-reviewed journal publications and the co-author of four books and nearly 40 book chapters. She holds nine U.S. patents, one of which is the basis of a company that uses 3D cell culture technology to predict how tumors will respond to cancer treatments and provides data to clinicians and pharma.
Burg’s work also has focused on enhancing science and engineering education, with emphases on mentoring, introducing underrepresented minority students to bioengineering research, and expanding participation in STEM innovation and entrepreneurship. She has served as the primary research advisor to more than 60 students at the master’s and doctoral level and has extended research opportunities in her labs to scores of undergraduate students.
She served as lead scientist for a team at UGA and Clemson University that developed a set of learning modules to provide customizable mentoring for students interested in how to succeed in a research setting. Called “Research Experience and Mentoring,” the online training materials include resources for both mentors and mentees and were created as a broadly useful tool in helping aspiring researchers learn best practices and professional skills. The modules were recently launched on the National Institute of Health’s National Research Mentoring Network.
“Mentoring is a skill that must be developed. It’s an area where we must always seek to do better—including a better job of helping people learn how to mentor. Mentoring is personal,” she said.