Biology Professor Recognized with Award for Fostering Diversity and Inclusivity

December 1, 2023

Dr Acosta Award

UIW as an academic institution stands firm in its commitment to educating, supporting, and recognizing its diverse student body and the community in which it serves. Every day presents a new opportunity to consider how to help better establish an environment in which people of various identities are welcomed, embraced, and set up to succeed. Dr. Veronica Acosta, UIW professor of Biology, has been an exemplary model of someone who has contributed to the creation of such an environment. In recognition of her dedicated contributions to diversity and inclusivity in higher education, Acosta was named the 2023 recipient of the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) Award for Fostering Diversity and Inclusivity.

FUN is an international organization dedicated to supporting neuroscience research and education at the undergraduate level. Its members include faculty, students, businesses and organizations, colleges and universities, and neuroscience departments and programs. Its mission is to "enhance undergraduate participation in neuroscience research, disseminate innovations and recognize excellence in undergraduate neuroscience education, and develop national and regional networks to enhance undergraduate neuroscience education, research, and faculty development."

The FUN Award for Fostering Diversity and Inclusivity is given to a member who has "made extraordinary efforts promoting diversity and inclusivity in undergraduate neuroscience education" which can be demonstrated through acts such as the development of programs, inclusive mentoring, and fostering diversity within the classroom and lab. Acosta was nominated for the award by fellow FUN member Elaine Reynolds, professor of Biology at Lafayette College, who shared, "Dr. Acosta has mentored many undergraduate students from UIW and local community colleges, as well as high school students, many of whom are from minoritized and/or first-generation populations." Reynolds also detailed Acosta’s DEI efforts including the publishing of work and research on diversity and inclusion topics including the retention of underrepresented minority faculty and the need for strategic action at the university level.

"A paper in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience on effective mentorship as a means to diversify neuroscience has been well received and has over 7,000 views since it was published earlier this year," Reynolds continued in sharing Acosta’s work. "Dr. Acosta is also a coauthor on FUN’s statement on diversity equity and inclusion."
For all these efforts and more, Acosta was selected as the award recipient through the collective vote of approximately 500 FUN members across the nation. She traveled to Washington, DC to accept her award at the 2023 Fun Social from FUN’s current president, Dr. Erin Rhinehart.

Dr. Acosta Headshot

Acosta enjoys teaching and mentoring through the courses she teaches in cellular biology, developmental biology, and neurobiology at UIW. She has also directly mentored over 65 students in her laboratory, many who have moved on into STEM professions within academia and healthcare.

She has embraced her role within the scientific community to serve as a voice for those who have been historically excluded through invited talks and proceedings on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in STEM. She continues to support diversity in STEM through programs she has developed at UIW and beyond.

An excerpt from Dr. Acosta’s biography says it best: "It is of great importance to her to speak for those who cannot and to advocate for those who have little resources."