SACNAS Lifetime Member, DR. Mary JO Ondrechen (MOHAWK), Awarded National Science Foundation Grant to Study Novel Coronavirus

SANTA CRUZ, CA — Dr. Sonia I. Zárate, President of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) issued the following statement in celebration of SACNAS Lifetime Member, Dr. Mary Jo Ondrechen’s (Mohawk) NSF grant award to study coronavirus.

“We applaud the career and immeasurable contributions of Dr. Mary Jo Ondrechen (Mohawk). Today, we congratulate her in receipt of this critical grant funding from the National Science Foundation. A scientist from the Mohawk Nation, SACNAS Lifetime Member and Outstanding Mentor award recipient, Dr. Ondrechen is advancing the frontiers of science and leading lifesaving research in the battle against COVID-19. SACNAS thanks the National Science Foundation for recognizing that a diverse scientific workforce is essential if we are to address the scientific challenges we face as a nation. Further, SACNAS believes that funding should be reflective of the diverse needs of our country and supports robust funding for STEM research and its prioritization in the federal budget.”

Following are the biographies of SACNAS spokespersons and members available for interviews. Coordinate an interview by contacting Yamila Pino at or 202-440-1432.

Dr. Mary Jo Ondrechen, Professor of Chemistry and Biology at Northeastern University

Prof. Ondrechen’s research group specializes in theoretical and computational chemistry and computational biology. Areas of interest include: 1) Understanding the fundamental basis for enzyme catalysis; 2) Functional genomics – prediction of the functional roles of gene products (proteins); 3) Modeling of enzyme-substrate interactions; 4) Drug discovery; 5) Bioinformatics; and 6) Protein engineering. With the sequencing of the human genome and the genomes of thousands of species of interest, Structural Genomics (SG) projects have now reported 15,000 new protein structures. The next question is: What do these structures actually do? With support from the National Science Foundation, Prof. Ondrechen’s group is developing methods to predict protein function from structure.

Dr. Sonia Zárate, SACNAS President

Sonia Zárate, received her BS in Biology from Cal Poly Pomona and her PhD in Plant Molecular Biology from UC Riverside. As a graduate student and a postdoc she studied how plants perceive and respond to infestation and infection at the molecular level. Dr. Zárate’s long-standing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM includes her work as a Program Officer for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and in her role as President of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). As the fourth woman to lead SACNAS in its 45-year history and the first President to have benefitted from SACNAS since she was an undergraduate, Dr. Zárate is committed to continuing to lead national efforts to ensure that science is able to benefit from the potential that a diverse scientific workforce holds. Prior to her current appointment at HHMI, she was the Director for the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of San Diego (USD) and the PI for an NSF-REU focused on transfer and veteran students and Co-PI for a UBE IUSE grant to enhance undergraduate biology education. Dr. Zárate also served as the Associate Director for the Undergraduate Research Center-Sciences at UCLA where she directed the NIH-MARC U-STAR, NIH-Bridges, NIH-IMSD, UC LEADS and the HHMI Undergraduate Research Fellows programs.



For over 47 years, SACNAS has served as an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicano/Hispanics & Native Americans, from college students to professionals, in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership within STEM.

Today, the organization serves a growing community of over 20,000 supporters, 8,200+ members, and 115+ student and professional chapters throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. SACNAS influences the STEM diversity movement through STEM outreach & advocacy, promotion of STEM leaders, and The SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference. Learn more about SACNAS at sacnas.orgFacebook, or Twitter.


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