University of Wisconsin-Stout

Feb. 26, 2009

Kitrina Carlson beat some long odds to be an up-and-coming associate professor in University of Wisconsin-Stout’s biology department. She grew up the daughter of a logger in the Rhinelander area, one of 11 children.

She had one thing going for her, though: Her parents were passionate about education. Thankfully for science students at UW-Stout, Carlson inherited that passion.

On Thursday, March 5, Carlson will be joined by a colleague from UW-Manitowoc at the UW System Board of Regents meeting in Madison to receive the first-ever Regents Diversity Award in the team category.

The citation honors Carlson and Rebecca Abler, UW-Manitowoc assistant professor of biological sciences, for the project “Portals of Discovery: Increasing Opportunities in STEM through Collaborative Research.” STEM refers to the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Kitrina and all she has accomplished at UW-Stout,” said UW-Stout Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen. “This award is a result of dedication, hard work and a real passion for teaching students from all races and backgrounds.”

The primary goal of the Portals of Discovery project is to recruit and retain science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors in Wisconsin through collaborations developed by UW-Manitowoc and UW-Stout. The project is designed to provide sufficient support so students from diverse backgrounds will have the ability to pursue a degree in the rigorous STEM fields.

“In our program, students begin work on a collaborative research project in their freshman or sophomore year at UW-Manitowoc and will continue on the project in their junior and senior years at UW-Stout,” the professors said in their award nomination. “This model ensures that, when students transfer, they will have the opportunity to continue progressing and working on the same research program in their junior and senior years.”

The diversity component involves a study of traditional Hmong medicinal plant compounds, a project students are working on. They are surveying Hmong elders on plants used for medicine and creating a plant database to document plants with medicinal potential.

Carlson said the Portals of Discovery project encourages diversity by opening the door to students who traditionally have been underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“It’s all about diversity,” Carlson said. “We are working to help students who normally wouldn’t have college on their radar to move into the STEM fields.”

Carlson explained that minorities, women and students from disadvantaged backgrounds often need more support to pursue an education in STEM fields. Her project with Abler incorporates research with peer and faculty mentoring to provide that support as students move from high school, through UW-Manitowoc and then through UW-Stout.

“A mentoring and support structure exists that will remain with the students as they accomplish increasingly challenging research and course work objectives,” the professors said in their nomination document.

Carlson said she got similar support as a student from her parents and also from faculty mentors while working at the UW-Madison Rhinelander Agricultural Research Station, on the UW Lelah Starks Potato Breeding Farm. Her work there, Carlson said, “put college on my radar.

“We need to have a diversity of ideas” in the STEM fields, Carlson added. “This is important if we are going to find new ways to solve problems.”

“Kitrina Carlson has continually served as a model for diversity efforts that are seamlessly integrated into the core mission of the university,” said Richard Tafalla, UW-Stout assistant vice chancellor for diversity. “Her efforts and this recognition exemplify the meaning of inclusive excellence.

“I have known Kitrina as an enthusiastic supporter of students of color, a tireless academic and gifted scholar,” Tafalla added. “She truly has earned this award.”

“The high caliber of the nominees made this a very challenging but ultimately rewarding process to be involved in,” said Regent Jose Vasquez, who chaired the special Regents committee to select the winners. “It was gratifying to see the commitment of so many to closing the achievement gap for historically underrepresented student populations. These efforts should be recognized and applauded for their leadership in helping to make our UW institutions a place where all students can succeed and thrive.”

The winners will be honored at an awards ceremony Thursday, March 5, in conjunction with the Board of Regents meeting. Each winner will receive up to $5,000 to support the recipient’s professional development or to continue the program being honored. Other winners include Roseann Mason, director of community dialogues in the UW-Parkside Center for Community Partnerships, and the UW-Platteville Master of Science in Education- Adult Education program.

For more information, contact Kitrina Carlson at or 715-232-1248.