Chemistry and Biochemistry
Vince Ortiz, Department Chairman

Ortiz honored for his support of under-represented students

OrtizVincent Ortiz, Ruth W. Molette Professor and chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was honored with the President’s Award at the 39th Annual Conference of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, for initiating and supporting the Technology Education Partnership between Auburn University and NOBCChE, and for providing increased opportunities and a more receptive environment for under-represented students to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Auburn.

NOBCChE is dedicated to building an eminent community of scientists and engineers by increasing the number of minorities in these fields. The Technology Education Partnerships Program allows NOBCChE to facilitate linkages between students and faculty at majority institutions and historically black colleges and universities. The goal is to leverage the connections, resulting in a larger pool of minority students pursuing graduate degrees in chemistry, chemical engineering, and the physical sciences.

Ortiz said his support of the Auburn chapter of NOBCChE and the organization’s mission arises from the way he was raised and the experiences he had growing up.

“My father was Latin American and came to this country at an early age to study. He spoke a lot about the greatness of this country, but also of its unfulfilled promise of racial equality. He came to the U.S. in 1929 and was very surprised and dismayed by the color lines that existed,” said Ortiz. “My impressions were reinforced when I went to visit my mother’s side of the family in the southeastern U.S. and what my mother informed me about the attitudes of her parents. My grandfather was a merchant who had very strong opinions on what it meant to treat people the right way. This, plus being in the South in the 1960s had a great effect on me. Civil rights and the Vietnam War were both in full swing. I even went with my parents to New York to Central Park to hear Dr. King give a speech. So, the cause of providing equal professional, scientific, and educational opportunity in the sciences coincides with my personal beliefs and my life experiences, and I am happy to make a contribution.”

Present at the conference were more than 60 universities, businesses and industry leaders in the fields of chemistry and chemical engineering that set up information booths. The booths gave participants an opportunity to interact with representatives from the various, leading institutions to learn about career options and explore educational opportunities. Included among the leaders in chemistry and chemical engineering education were the representatives from Auburn, who hosted an exhibit, providing information on both COSAM and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, and the diverse opportunities and fields of study both colleges offer.

“We had an opportunity to recruit while we were there,” said Ortiz. “We explained what our graduate programs are like, told prospective students about our admissions process, and explained how we foresee a great opportunity for students at Auburn, particularly students from historically black colleges and universities. We are very favorably disposed to admitting and fostering minority students in our graduate programs.

Ortiz said the cause of educating minority scientists should be safeguarded and promoted as a matter of creating strength in American industry and education.

“A diverse staff is important to the success and achievement of any industry,” said Ortiz. “And with the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, we are losing expertise, so it is critical for industry to hire and replace these workers. In some cases, like at the Department of Defense, the employees have to be American citizens to get security clearances. So really, it’s a matter of national security that we have trained American scientists. I believe the talents of all people in this country should be developed to the greatest extent possible, and that’s the beauty of working at a land-grant institution like Auburn. We are here to lift people up. I am very proud of having worked at a land- grant institution like Auburn where we are providing opportunities and developing talent.”

- Photo courtesy of NOBCChE.