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Lorna Cintrón González: A Pioneer in Engineering Education

Mónica Ivelisse Feliú-Mójer's picture
Dr. Lorna Cintrón González
Dr. Lorna Cintrón González

By Monica I. Feliú-Mójer, Ph.D.

"My biggest satisfaction has been to graduate the program’s inaugural class of students."

This is how Dr. Lorna Cintrón- González describes the first great milestone of an adventure that began four years ago. In August of 2013, she joined the faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Francis Marion University (FMU), as assistant professor and coordinator of the first baccalaureate program in industrial engineering in the history of this academic institution in South Carolina. 

Cintrón-González has embraced her role as a pioneer. She was the first professor in industrial engineering at Francis Marion University. During her first two years there, she was not only the first, but the only one. She came to the institution shortly after graduating with a doctorate in this discipline and a specialty in ergonomics from Penn State University, to start and lead the first program in industrial engineering at FMU. 

"My work as a coordinator consists predominantly of teaching, but I also spend a lot of time establishing relationships with industry for the benefit of students and the program. In addition, I am leading the preparation for the program to be accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which will help give it prestige and recognition," she says.

The FMU industrial engineering program is special because the school is predominantly liberal arts. In addition, it is the only program of its kind in the Pee Dee region in northeastern South Carolina, and one of two in the state.

Dr. Manuel Díaz-Ríos: Promoting neuroscience in the laboratory and the community

Marla S. Rivera-Oliver's picture
El Dr. Manuel Díaz-Ríos y su equipo de investigación
Dr. Manuel Díaz-Ríos and his research group

In the laboratory of Dr. Manuel Díaz-Ríos at the University of Puerto Rico’s Institute of Neurobiology, the students and personnel not only study how the motor nervous system functions and how it is affected with trauma or degenerative diseases, but they also learn the value of volunteer work and have the opportunity to teach kids and the community about science. Manolo (as he is known by his friends) firmly believes how important it is for scientists to contribute beyond the walls of the lab through education and mentoring. 

His passion for strengthening Puerto Rican education through volunteering comes from his own life experiences. Manolo acknowledges that he would not have accomplished as much as he has without the mentors that guided and mentored him throughout his career and life and that shared their enthusiasm for science with him. “I have always felt a passion for teaching going beyond just knowledge, so that the person, child or teacher feels excited by his classes or seminars”. 

For Manolo it is very important to transmit that energy: “Your passion for your career is contagious and if you share it, people understand you better and they also get to experience what it feels to do what you love. When you do something that you are passionate about, the way you talk about it is different; you talk about it with you brain and heart in it. When your heart is behind the things that you do, it is much more powerful and affects everyone equally: family, students, and the people around you. That is how you transform a country”. 


Manolo speaking Nemesio Canales II students about what scientists do. Photo provided by Dr. Díaz-Ríos.

Dr. Eduardo Nicolau: creating solutions with nanoparticle chemistry

Lorraine Doralys Rodriguez-Rivera's picture
Dr. Eduardo Nicolau
Dr. Eduardo Nicolau

The International Space Station (ISS) as well as space shuttles possess a limited amount of energy to keep their equipment working once they have been launched into space. Could you imagine being able to generate energy, for the ISS, using molecules found in the astronauts’ urine? Or being able to turn non-drinking water into one that is actually safe to drink?  Moreover, being able to use special materials, called biomaterials, to develop bone grafts?

Although this may sound like science fiction, Dr. Eduardo Nicolau and his students are working very hard to find solutions to these real-world problems. For instance, astronauts, people with severe health conditions, and countries where water scarcity is an issue, could benefit from Dr. Nicolau’s research.

But, how is he planning to accomplish these solutions? It is by studying the interaction between nanoparticles and biomacromolecules. What this means is that Dr. Nicolau focuses on trying to understand how tiny materials, called nanoparticles, “see” biological molecules. “We would like to know if they ‘meet and greet’ or if they ignore each other”, expressed Dr. Nicolau. Depending on the kind of interaction, Dr. Nicolau decides if these nanoparticles or biological molecules are suitable for solving the aforementioned real-world problems.

Carla Restrepo: Leaving a mark with ecological studies

Lorraine Doralys Rodriguez-Rivera's picture
Dr. Carla Restrepo

At some point in our lives we have asked questions regarding the environment, the animals that inhabit planet earth, and climatic conditions. How does an increase in temperature could affect some organisms? How do small changes in a specific environment can have a large-scale effect on our planet? How does human activity affect our bodies of water? These are some of the questions that Dr. Restrepo, an ecologist and professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras, is attempting to answer through her research projects.

Dr. Restrepo had a very interesting childhood. Since she was a little girl she had many questions about the workings of living organisms around her. Her mom and dad were scientists back in Colombia. Since an early age, she was in awe with her mom’s biology textbook. Her dad was a mathematician and had a large collection of books and magazines on various topics. Carla enjoyed organizing his library. Although she cannot pinpoint a specific event that inspired her to be a scientist, she grew up in an environment were knowledge was highly esteemed.

She grew up in several countries allowing her to be exposed to different cultures. Early in her childhood she lived in the United States, Mexico, and Puerto Rico and at age 8 moved to Colombia. Shed lived there until she graduate from the  Universidad del Valle in Cali where she majored in Biology. She had her first research experience, published her first peer-reviewed article, and fell-in-love with birds during her undergraduate years.

A dream within a dream

Greetchen Díaz-Muñoz's picture

I've had all kinds of dreams when I sleep. Some are very long and strange but others are just funny. Those dreams while I sleep have always been a mystery to me, but are not part of my favorite moments. Daydreaming is what I really enjoy. I like to imagine how things would be if I do something to make them happen. They say, " It costs nothing to dream". I add that "to achieve your dreams is worth everything."

Patricia Ordóñez: Propelling computer science into the health industry and equity

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Dra. Patricia Ordóñez
Dr. Patricia Ordóñez

The disparity of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is still a serious issue in 2016. Computer science, a STEM discipline, is not the exception. Data from the National Science Foundation show that although the number women acquiring computer science degrees has increased since 2002, women are still a small proportion of the workforce in this field which continues to be dominated by men. 

That was the case for Dr. Patricia Ordóñez, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras, who despite her abilities and interests, took a tortuous road to obtain the position she holds today. Patricia knows too well about the unconscious bias and discrimination that women and minorities face in this field and is set on changing these statistics.

From a young age, Patricia knew she would pursue a career that involved mathematics. By the time she finished high school in the state of Maryland, where she grew up with her family originally from Colombia, Patricia had taken Calculus II. 

Her proficiency in mathematics led her to take a computer science course in high school, where she discovered that she could apply math to program and understand computers. From her exposure to this course, computer science became her interest. However, Patricia chose to major in electrical engineering at Johns Hopkins University because she did not know about a program in computer science at the time of her application.


Valerie Wojna: Finding Healthcare Alternatives for HIV-Positive Women

Mónica Ivelisse Feliú-Mójer's picture
Valerie Vojna y sus colegas
Dr. Valerie Wojna, center, with her NeuroAIDS Program colleagues.

Great advances in the management, prevention and treatment of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) have significantly reduced the mortality caused by this infection. However, the stigma around the disease remains, so there are groups of patients who are discriminated against when receiving medical care. Dr. Valerie Wojna, professor at the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico (MSC-UPR), seeks to improve the quality of life of one of these underserved groups: women with HIV.

Raised in Caguas, Puerto Rico, Dr. Wojna studies the effects of HIV/AIDS on the brain and nervous system, through the Specialized Program of Neuroscience and NeuroAIDS at MSC-UPR. Besides affecting the immune system, HIV can cause dementia, memory problems, neuropathies and increase the likelihood of infections of the nervous system, among other neurological complications. 

This medical doctor, a product of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) and specialist in neurology and clinical neurophysiology, became interested in working with neglected populations during her early years as faculty at the UPR School of Medicine. "My main responsibility was to offer services to medically indigent patients," she says.

Dr. Wojna sees one of her patients.

James Ayala González: The Panda “Whisperer”

Wilson Javier Gonzalez-Espada's picture
James Ayala González
James Ayala González con un panda rojo

Por Dr. Wilson Gonzalez-Espada, Ciencia Puerto Rico

A well-known mathematics postulate states that: “Through any two points, there is exactly one straight line." Our reality, of course, is much more complicated than that. The life journey of a person is more like the curvy roads of PR-1, or “La Piquiña.”

A perfect example of this is scientist James Ayala González, who started his professional life as a jazz musician and today is a behavioral researcher at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Sichuan Province, Peoples Republic of China.

James was born just outside of Queens, New York City. His father, José Ayala Román, was originally from La Perla and his mother, Lourdes González Más, was a “Nuyorican” from the Bronx. Growing up in Jamaica Queens, James’ heart was divided between his two loves: science and music. “I would beg my parents to bring me to the Bronx Zoo, the NY Aquarium or the Museum of Natural History, so naturally I excelled at biology in grade school. However, I also had a deep love for music. In middle school, I began playing the saxophone and attending a special public high school music program to perform jazz.” By high school, James had put his interests in biology aside.

James attended Purchase College, part of the SUNY system, as a jazz performance major. “Jazz is one of the purest art forms, the freedom and expression of improvisation is without parallel. As a child, my father schooled me on the legends: Coltrane, Parker, Davis, Monk, Gillespie, Rollins, and Mingus. These were lessons I never forgot.”

Illuminating science: Promoting the field of photonics in Puerto Rico

Luis Cedeno's picture
Dr. Jonathan Friedman

For one thousand years, we humans have been fascinated by light and by harnessing its power to develop new technologies. Light and optics are the basis of some the most important technologies of our time—from lasers, to fiber optics and telecommunications; from technologies to explore the cosmos, to applications to explore the world on a microscopic or even nanoscopic scale.  In honor of such an important area of research and knowledge, the year 2015 was proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL). In Puerto Rico, celebrations for the IYL were led by Dr. Jonathan Friedman, an expert in the physics of light and a champion for Puerto Rico as a destination for the training of students and development of new technologies in the area of photonics, the manipulation of photons of light and energy for science, engineering and technology applications.

Dr. Friedman has always been passionate about science.  As an undergraduate studying Physics at Cornell University, he was recruited to help one of his professors, Dr. Louis Hand, to re-develop an undergraduate optical laboratory.  This opportunity and the excitement and camaraderie he experienced working in the photonics laboratory, sparked his interest in lasers, optics and photonics and inspired him to pursue a PhD in Physics at Colorado State University. 

Ana Helvia Quintero: A Borinqueña that has re-invented math education

Luis Enrique Valentín Alvarado's picture
Dra. Ana Helvia Quintero

In November 2013 we launched our Borinqueña initiative to broaden the discussion about women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and promote the participation of women in these disciplines and careers where they have traditionally been underrepresented. On our second Borinqueña anniversary, we dedicate our monthly story to Dr. Ana Helvia Quintero, a math loving Borinqueña, educator by vocation and profession that has fought (as a professor, researcher and within the sphere of public policy) so that our young people have access to the world of mathematics.

 Ana Helvia Quintero was born, raised and educated in San Juan. Her love for mathematics shaped the beginnings of her scholar career. However, studying mathematics was not her main goal, instead she dreamed of becoming an educator.

During her junior year at the University of Puerto Rico High School, Ana Helvia was invited to take a pre-calculus pilot course offered by the renowned professor Eugene Francis. It was this great teacher that sparked her desire to continue a career in mathematics. She completed her bachelor's degree in mathematics and philosophy at the University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras and later continued graduate studies in pure mathematics at the University of California Berkeley.  

Dr. Quintero at an odontology summer camp at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus. Photo courtesy of Ana Helvia Quintero.


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