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Chemistry professor’s dedication earns national distinction

It only took a moment for Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross to open the envelope that arrived in the mail at her Murfreesboro home.

For the MTSU faculty member, the contents divulged wonderful news that took decades of striving to achieve success in the chemical world and the chemistry classroom for the dividend to be realized.

MTSU chemistry professor Judith Iriarte-Gross poses with the American Chemical Society's E. Ann Nalley Southeastern Regional Award for Volunteer Service that she received this past spring. The organization has now included Iriarte-Gross in its 2016 class of American Chemical Society Fellows for her outstanding achievements in and contributions to science and her profession. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

MTSU chemistry professor Judith Iriarte-Gross poses with the American Chemical Society’s E. Ann Nalley Southeastern Regional Award for Volunteer Service that she received this past spring. The organization has now included Iriarte-Gross in its 2016 class of American Chemical Society Fellows for her outstanding achievements in and contributions to science and her profession. (MTSU photo by Andy Heidt)

Neil D. Jespersen, chair of the ACS Fellows Oversight Committee, wrote to inform Iriarte-Gross that she had been selected as a member of the 2016 class of American Chemical Society Fellows.

The ACS Fellows Program honors its members for outstanding achievements in and contributions to the science, profession and the society, Jespersen said in the three-paragraph formal letter.

“Once again, please accept my heartiest congratulations on being named an ACS Fellow,” Jespersen added. “Thank you for your contributions to the chemical enterprise and to the ACS community.”

The 2016 class of ACS Fellows will be honored in a ceremony during the ACS national meeting Monday, Aug. 22, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The full list of fellows will appear in the July 18 issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

“It’s an extreme honor to be recognized for the volunteer work I do for the ACS,” Iriarte-Gross said of the newest honor to come her way.

Dr. Bud Fischer, dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, offered congratulations to his colleague.

“This award recognizes Dr. Gross for her service to the American Chemical Society as well as her achievements in teaching and research,” Fischer said.

“Such awards also serve as further evidence of the quality of faculty who have chosen to invest their careers in Middle Tennessee State University and the students and public that this university serves.”

Dr. E. Ann Nalley, a chemistry professor at Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, ACS president in 2006, nominated Iriarte-Gross for the award. Iriarte-Gross called Nalley “a good mentor and role model for all women in chemistry.”

Dr. Bud Fischer

Dean Bud Fischer

The professor, who also leads the annual Expanding Your Horizons in Math and Science event and serves as director of the MTSU Women in STEM, or WISTEM, Center, joined the ACS Committee of Minority Affairs this year and serves on the society’s Leadership Advisory Board.

“The nominating committee asked me for my resume and what I do outside of ACS,” she said. “When they heard about my involvement with EYH, GRITS, the WISTEM Center and DigiGirlz, they knew I had a lot to offer outside and inside the American Chemical Society.”

ACS logo72EYH, an event for middle and high school girls interested in math and science, celebrates its 20th anniversary Oct. 22. GRITS is the acronym for Girls Raised in Tennessee Science, an organization that helps pique girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

Digigirlz, a Microsoft-sponsored national program that connects middle and high school girls with tech careers during hands-on workshops, conducts its Midstate event in Franklin, Tennessee, each year.

During the academic year, Iriarte-Gross teaches honors physical science classes, combining chemistry, physics, geology and astronomy into a total package for students. She joined the MTSU faculty in 1996 after working for the Food and Drug Administration in Texas and as a lab manager in the plastics industry.

Iriarte-Gross’s many professional recognitions include:

  • Science Educator of the Year in Higher Education by the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, 2015.
  • A Woman of Influence by the Nashville Business Journal, 2015.
  • Athena International Leadership Award, 2014.
  • The MTSU President’s Silver Column Award, 2013.
  • Association for Women in Science Fellow, 2009.
  • Science Education for New Civic Engagement and Responsibilities Leadership Fellow, 2008.

In 2013, Iriarte-Gross, who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Maryland and her doctorate at the University of South Carolina, was nominated for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. That program is administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)