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Dean Honored for Work Advancing Women in STEM

By Brian Hiro

When Katherine Kantardjieff graduated from USC in 1979, she was one of only three women to receive a bachelor’s of science in chemistry, and there were no female faculty members in the department.

In the decades since, women have become much more represented in the growing field of STEM, and Kantardjieff is a proud manifestation of that.

On May 3, Kantardjieff, the dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Cal State San Marcos, was rewarded for her work at the university as one of six winners (out of more than 70 nominees) of the Pinnacle Award, in the category of Individual in Education. The awards, which honor those who elevate, advance and promote women working in the STEM fields, is given by Athena, a San Diego-based professional association dedicated to advancing women in STEM.

Kantardjieff had been nominated for the Pinnacle Award once before, when she first came to San Marcos as the founding dean of the college in 2011, for her long career as a professor at Cal State Fullerton and Cal Poly Pomona. But the recognition during the gala ceremony at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla was more important to her this time.

“When my name got announced, even though I thought I’d prepared myself, it was unexpected for me,” Kantardjieff said. “I don’t think it really occurred to me how much it meant to me until I actually got up to the podium because I had to stop and collect myself. It still kind of chokes me up. To be honored by your peers like that, it validates your purpose.”

Since Kantardjieff was hired to start up the College of Science and Mathematics, the student population has grown by 131 percent, the faculty has increased by 50 percent, and the number of majors has doubled. But her impact goes beyond mere statistics. With a focus on the needs of the region, she has helped broaden the college to encompass programs as diverse as biotech, cybersecurity, wildfire science and even craft beer. Under her leadership, the college brought software and electrical engineering from concepts to approved programs in only four years.

And she has overseen the development of a college that now includes more than 60 percent female students and a female faculty percentage in the 30s.

“Even though I was honored as an individual, you have to have a team and collaboration, and it takes that incredible faculty and staff to make things happen,” Kantardjieff said. “You have to have good soil to make the garden grow.”

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