“A dynamo of energy and passion and commitment” is how Zaida C. Morales-Martínez is described by Carlos G. Gutiérrez, a professor of chemistry at California State University, Los Angeles, who has served with her on various ACS committees. “Zaida’s participation as a volunteer in ACS is characterized by good thinking and strong recommendations, as well as hard work and follow-through that transform those ideas into functioning society initiatives and programs.”
Morales-Martínez, a chemistry professor emerita at Florida International University, in Miami, does not dispute the claims about her dynamism. Although she just turned 74, she says that “in spirit” she is “19 or 20.”
Having grown up in Puerto Rico with a father who was active in politics, Morales-Martínez has been volunteering for as long as she can remember. “We were always doing something for somebody,” she says. As she established her career in the U.S., she found that ACS provided an excellent avenue to serve others, she says.
Initially, Morales-Martínez served her local section as counselor. Later she became involved in Project SEED, helping “these very intelligent kids find a vision of what they could be,” she says.
In 1991, Morales-Martínez stepped up her involvement in ACS when then-ACS president S. Allen Heininger selected her to be part of a task force that looked at the low rate of minority participation in the chemical sciences and in ACS. As part of this task force, she made significant contributions toward the establishment of the ACS Board-Council Committee on Minority Affairs and ACS Diversity Programs.
Morales-Martínez says that she is most proud of her efforts to help design and implement the ACS Scholars Program, which awards renewable scholarships of up to $5,000 per year to minority students who want to enter chemistry or related fields. “Eighty ACS Scholars have gone on to earn Ph.D. degrees” since the program’s inception in 1995, she says.
The scholarship program is successful partly because it provides a unique but critical mentoring component—something “Zaida emphasized as important,” Gutiérrez says. Since 1999, Morales-Martínez has been a consultant to ACS, ensuring that the ACS Scholars are matched with a supportive mentor at their university, in industry, or in a local ACS section. Given the heart she has shown in helping young people set and reach high goals, Morales-Martínez is affectionately known as “Mama Z” by her students and ACS Scholars.
Morales-Martínez received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, in 1957 and an M.S. in analytical chemistry from Pennsylvania State University in 1962. She was the 2004 recipient of the ACS Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences.
She says she is honored to receive this year’s award for her volunteer service to ACS, but in some ways she already feels rewarded for her efforts. “Although I have given a lot of time and energy to ACS, I have received so much more in return—in terms of the relationships I have made and the love I get—from these kids.”
Morales-Martínez will present the award address during the ChemLuminary Awards at the fall ACS national meeting in Denver.