The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force presents Excellence in STEM, with Dr. Patricia Ordóñez Franco, Associate Professor, Department of Information System at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Dr. Ordóñez Franco exemplifies the perfect balance of knowledge and passion. In this interview, she shares her experience as a Latina in tech and offers an empowering piece of advice about finding a mentor that sees YOU!
Why Did You Choose Your Current Technical Field?
Dr. Ordóñez Franco When I started to see advances in CAT scans with technology, I could see the potential of computing in health. As an undergraduate, I worked for years as a phlebotomist in a hospital, and I was assigned to the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units. There I experienced and witnessed so many things that could drastically improve with technology. I started to read more about the field and realized that building these solutions would require advanced computing and engineering skills.
What does a typical day or week look like for you as an associate professor?
Dr. Ordóñez Franco I start my week on Sundays, looking at my calendar to plan my week. In the mornings, I try to get in some exercise unless I have a pending deadline. Then I read and answer emails. I have one or two teaching days and three or four research days. On the research days, I focus on writing, building collaborations, and scheduling meetings with my research team to see how we are doing and where we are going, or I am on site actually doing the research, usually with students or collaborators. On teaching days, I focus on coordinating, preparing, and giving lectures, preparing assessments and workshops, and meeting with my teaching assistants and students.
What’s been your greatest professional challenge as a member of the Latino community, and how did you overcome it?
Dr. Ordóñez Franco I have faced a lot of distrust as a Latina in tech, and am constantly having to prove myself and then being called crazy for coming up with creative ideas, even though, in the end, they are successful. When I have done initiatives for Latinas in tech, it has been met with a lot of resistance. I overcame it by finding male allies to collaborate with me. Still, I look forward to the day that Latinas are not called crazy for being innovative or thinking outside the box, but rather are valued for their perspective and can lead without having to look for male allies.
What is one piece of advice you can give Latino students and/or early career professionals?
Dr. Ordóñez Franco Do not let anyone or anything (like failure) define you. (Slightly modified version of my favorite saying of former UMBC President, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.) Find mentors that see the assets in you that you see in yourself or more, and see who you want to become. As Sean Stephenson used to say, “Never believe a prediction unless it empowers you.”
What would you consider are Hispanic traits or behaviors instilled by your family that have made you successful?
Dr. Ordóñez Franco My parents very much instilled in me a sense of valuing and creating family. We were taught to be not only bilingual, but also to be bicultural, and thus instilled in me a passion for learning about other languages and cultures. We were also taught to succeed at maintaining complex relationships in the name of family unity. These skills and values have made me successful at establishing international networks, turning them into collaborations and then to teams, and creating a sense of belonging in the workplace for all.
What would you like to tell people about your country of origin?
Dr. Ordóñez Franco Colombia is so much more than coffee and drugs. It is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It has beautiful beaches, islands, and coastline in both the Pacific and the Caribbean, many beautiful rivers, snow-capped mountains, rain forests, and plains of cattle country in between, plus the diverse type of humans, plants, and animals found in these terrains. Its not-so-well-known exports include fruits, emeralds, gold, and flowers. It is home to many talented artists, musicians, writers, and scientists. The people of Colombia are known for being resilient, creative, resourceful, joyful, and very hospitable.
Puerto Rico is not my country of origin, but I am often associated with Puerto Rico, as it is the Latin country where I have lived and worked for the past 10 years. I can say the same wonderful things about Puerto Rico as I did about Colombia, except for the snow-capped mountains. Then there’s the music and the dance… Nuf said.
My former colleagues and students at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras are struggling right now after Hurricane Fiona. Most students have not experienced an uninterrupted semester since the fall of 2017, and research is declining due to the loss of power and budget cuts. UPR Río Piedras used to be the top producer of Hispanic PhDs in STEM in the US as per the NSF Science and Engineering Indicator tables. Since 2019, it is not even on the list of the top 20.
They need our support! Here are ways you can get involved and donate in support:
About Dr. Patricia Ordóñez:
Dr. Patricia Ordóñez is an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County starting in the fall of 2021. For 10 years, she was an Associate Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras, thereby fulfilling two lifelong dreams and an unexpected midlife one – living in a Spanish-speaking country, having the opportunity to make a greater difference in the world, and becoming a professor. Her research interests are in applying machine learning, data mining, and visualization to multivariate time series analysis, specifically to large repositories of clinical and biological data (Clinical Informatics and Biomedical Data Science), creating a voice programming language (Assistive Technology), and advocating for and working towards high-quality computer and data science education for all. She was the first Latina to graduate with a Ph.D. from the College of Engineering and Information Technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the first female Associate Professor to earn tenure in the Computer Science Department at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras (UPRRP). She is a former National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She is serving as General Chair of the 2022 Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference and is Chair of the AAAI Undergraduate Consortium. She is the recipient of a Great Minds in STEM 2021 HENAAC Award in Education and the 2021 AccessComputing Building Capacity Award. She is passionate about creating a more inclusive culture in computing and about bridging the digital and data divide in global healthcare and education.