SACNAS celebrates September Mentor of the Month: Dr. Mary Jo Ondrechen.
Dr. Ondrechen is a chemist, professor, mentor and SACNAS Lifetime member who has been involved with the community for several years She was awarded SACNAS Outstanding Native American Student Mentor in 2018.
“It is an honor to work with so many smart, creative, and hard-working students,” said Ondrechen. “To me this award symbolizes the contributions and successes of the Native students I have had the honor to know.”
Dr. Ondrechen was the eldest of five children. “One of my duties was to read to the younger children. To this day I have Dr. Seuss memorized,” said Dr. Ondrechen.
A proud member of Mohawk Nation, she received an ACS-certified Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Reed College and PhD in Chemistry and Chemical Physics from Northwestern University in Illinois. After postdoctoral research appointments at the University of Chicago and at Tel-Aviv University in Israel, the latter as a NATO Postdoctoral Fellow, she joined the faculty at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.
Today Dr. Ondrechen is Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and is the Principal Investigator of the Computational Biology Research Group at Northeastern University. The focus of her research is on understanding enzyme catalysis, predicting the function of proteins from genomics, protein design, and the computational aspects of drug discovery.
“Mentoring is an integral part of our Haudenausaunee culture,” said Dr. Ondrechen. “The student does the work to forge the path, but mentors point the way. The success of our minority STEM students is vital to the future of the planet, to future innovation and economic growth.”
Additional accomplishments include Past President of the Board of Directors of the North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB), recently serving on the Board of Advisers of the Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC), and 2011-2013 Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). Moreover, she is a co-PI on the 2014-2019 project “Lighting the Pathway to Faculty Careers for Natives in STEM,” an initiative to provide guidance and support to Native STEM students who want to become faculty members at colleges, universities, and tribal colleges.
“It is obvious from conversations with her students, that they are positively influenced by her selfless mentorship and brilliance,” described Steven Lopez, one of Dr. Ondrechen’s mentees. “As a 2017 National SACNAS meeting attendee, I keenly remember Dr. Cindy Wyels’ acceptance speech for this award. It was at that moment that I mentally nominated Mary Jo Ondrechen for this award.”
Dr. Ondrechen is also the Director of “Northeastern University Skills and Capacity for Inclusion (NU-SCI): Inclusive Excellence Catalyzed by Experiential Education,” funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A member of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Ondrechen gave the Eminent Scientist Lecture for the Society Committee on Education (SOCED) at the 2018 ACS National Meeting in New Orleans. She also spoke at the 2017 March for Science in Washington DC.
In recognition of a lifelong commitment to mentoring students at all levels, SACNAS proudly recognizes Dr. Ondrechen as September Mentor of the Month and SACNAS Outstanding Research and Professional Mentor for 2018.
Learn more about Dr. Ondrechen:
SACNAS Mentors of the Month are featured as part of the SACNAS Distinguished Awards program, which awards one Distinguished Scientist and one Distinguished Mentor each year. Outstanding Mentors are selected from among the top nominees for SACNAS Distinguished Mentor, and receive digital and multimedia recognition in the subsequent year.