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News & Press: Events

Sam Castañeda to be Awarded the 2018 Distinguished Service Award

Tuesday, January 30, 2018   (0 Comments)
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January 30, 2018


The recipient of the National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) 2018 Distinguished Service Award (DSA) is Sam Castañeda, director of the Visiting Scholar and Postdoc Affairs Program at the University of California, Berkeley. The DSA represents appreciation for an individual or entity that has demonstrated either a profound, sustained, or leadership contribution to improving the postdoctoral experience. This year the DSA was awarded to an individual, and will be presented at the 16th Annual Meeting, hosted by Case Western Reserve University, April 6-8, 2018.

Castañeda has worked for the University of California (UC) -- at both the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses -- for more than 35 years. Over the course of his tenure, he has created innovative programs that provide support to international students and scholars. He has also simultaneously held leadership positions with the California regional chapter of NAFSA: Association of International Educators. At the national level, Castañeda is the founder and current chair of the NAFSA Postdoc Special Interest Group and Institutional liaison between NAFSA and the NPA. He also served as co-chair of the Graduate Career Consortium Annual Conference held on the Berkeley campus in 2016.


At UC Berkeley, Castañeda is the founder and director of the Visiting Scholar and Postdoc Affairs (VSPA) Program -- the first postdoc office in the UC system and one of the first in the United States. As director of UC Berkeley’s VSPA Program, he is responsible for the oversight of postdocs and visiting scholars through a variety of professional support systems.


At UC Berkeley, Castañeda has created customized symposia, workshops and networking events designed to support and connect Berkeley’s 1,500 postdocs, 1,500 visiting scholars and 1,200 visiting student researchers with professional resources to broaden their career and professional development opportunities. With an extensive student and scholar background, he has earned recognition for a variety of tailored resources serving the postdoc community including the Berkeley Postdoc Entrepreneur program, the Postdoc Industry Exploration program, and the Postdoc Teaching Opportunity program. Other programs he has created addresses stress reduction, mentorship, language and communication, networking, personal development, and conflict resolution. He is particularly proud of the creation of the Berkeley Spouses, Partners, and Parents Association which provides a largely international community of spouse/partner professionals with access to career counseling, language and communication courses, psychological intervention, cultural adjustment, and networking.


For more than ten years, Castañeda was chair of the UC system Postdoc Work Group where he spearheaded the establishment of job codes that provide health and welfare benefits for postdocs and their dependents throughout the UC system. He is also founder and currently managing editor of the UC Postdoc Newsletter, an electronic journal that connects more than 6,500 postdocs with 500 faculty and staff administrators who work together to enhance the postdoctoral experience at UC.


With regard to the NPA, Castañeda was a founding member of the NPA Advisory Council, the first chair of the International Committee, and author of the NPA International Postdoc Survival Guide, which is still in use today. He was chair of the inaugural, 5th, 10th and 15th NPA Annual Conference local planning committee and was responsible for fundraising approximately $180K.

Castañeda’s current project addresses one of the most pressing concerns for postdocs trying to live in the Bay Area: he is embarking on a three-year plan to identify donors and apply those funds to building housing on or near the UC Berkeley campus for both single postdocs and those with accompanying families.


One nominator expressed that Castañeda, "has tirelessly devoted his time to create informative sessions supporting the postdocs’ scientific life, as well as develop and sustain a plethora of customized programs supporting postdocs’ non-scientific life. He has created innovative sessions that assist them in navigating and understanding American life while retaining their unique cultural identity.” In mentioning his lengthy history with the NPA it was stated, “…through his commitment to the success of the National Postdoctoral Association, he has worked tirelessly to improve the experience of the postdoc.”


The NPA applauds Castañeda for his various contributions and the profound impact they have had on the postdoctoral experience.


Past recipients of the Distinguished Service Award are*:

2017 - Postdoc Executive Committee, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

2016 - Nancy Schwartz, Ph.D., dean for postdoctoral affairs and co-director of the Office of Graduate Affairs, University of Chicago, professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and director of the Kennedy Research Center

2015 – Center for Cancer Training, National Cancer Institute

2014 – Shirley M. Tilghman, Ph.D.

2013 - Burroughs Wellcome Fund

2012 - Philip S. Clifford, Ph.D., associate dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, professor of anesthesiology and physiology, Medical College of Wisconsin

2011 - Science Careers and The Gladstone Institutes

2010 - Trevor M. Penning, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology, biochemistry and biophysics, and OB/GYN, and director of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET), School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

2009 - The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

2008 - Shirley Malcom, Ph.D., director, Education and Human Resources Programs, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

2007 - Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

2006 - Laurel L. Haak, Ph.D., science director, Discovery Logics

2005 - National Academies' Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy

2004 - Ruth Kirschstein, M.D., senior advisor to the director, National Institutes of Health


*Title and institution listed here reflect the title at the time award was given, and may have changed since then.