Issue Date: August 31, 2015
It’s a familiar story, but that doesn’t make it any less inspirational: Bright young student encounters inspirational chemistry teacher in high school or college and gets hooked on science. The rest is history.
It is the story of former ACS Scholar Annette F. Raigoza, an assistant professor of chemistry at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University in St. Joseph, Minn. Raigoza was born and raised in Odessa, Texas, and attended the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) in Odessa. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, Raigoza and her brother and sister were the first members of her family to attend and graduate from college.
“Odessa is in the middle of the West Texas desert,” Raigoza says. “The area is known for football—the book ‘Friday Night Lights’ was about my high school. The oil industry is very important.” Raigoza’s mother and father were born and raised in Mexico. Her father finished high school and became a carpenter. Her mother had vocational training and was a stay-at-home mom. They both came to the U.S. in the 1970s.
Physics and math were Raigoza’s favorite subjects in high school. “I took every math class that was available, and physics just made sense to me,” she says. “I decided to major in computer science in college.” Although she did well in computer science and seemed set on a career path, she hadn’t counted on an encounter with chemistry. “In my sophomore year, I took chemistry and found I really enjoyed it. I loved seeing the patterns in things and seeing all of the trends in the periodic table. I hadn’t really connected all that well in my computer science classes, and my chemistry professor noticed that. She said to me, ‘You really seem to enjoy the chemistry class more than your computer science classes.’ ”
That observant UTPB chemistry professor was Jeanne V. Russell, now retired. “She was really engaging,” Raigoza says of Russell, “and encouraged me to pursue chemistry. She also was familiar with the ACS Scholars Program and pushed me to apply.”
With Russell’s encouragement, Raigoza went on to do her graduate studies at the University of Notre Dame, where she received an M.S. in chemistry in 2006 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 2012. In between receiving her degrees, Raigoza spent a year as an instructor in the department of natural sciences at St. Philip’s College in San Antonio.
Raigoza emphasizes that the ACS Scholars Program became much more to her than just a scholarship. “Being an ACS Scholar has been helpful all these years, even now,” she says. “It helped me pay for college, made me more competitive for graduate school and on the job market, and has been a great way to meet others in chemistry.”
ACS Scholars is also a very real community, Raigoza says. “It is a great way of meeting other scientists,” she says. “I continue to look for scholar events at ACS national meetings. And now that I’m a faculty member, I encourage students to apply to the program because it has so many benefits beyond the funds to help pay for college.”
Raigoza has particular praise for Robert J. Hughes, the manager of the ACS Scholars Program. “He is really good at checking in on scholars,” she says. “I have had a number of contacts with him over the years. Obviously my family cared about my education, but it was really nice to have someone else who also cared about my career.”
Raigoza’s research focuses on surface chemistry. “My group is interested in fundamental studies of the interactions of biological materials with surfaces,” she says. “We want to know more and more about the properties of surfaces and how we can exploit those properties to get them to do what we want them to do.”
Raigoza says she will always remember the professors who went out of their way to keep her engaged and focused on the future. “I really benefited from that sort of experience, and I want to be the type of professor who will push her students to succeed and be excited for what they are doing,” she says.
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
- Copyright © American Chemical Society