Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross, left, listens as MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee explains the significance of the President’s Silver Column Award he presented to her Feb. 4 in her Wiser-Patten Science Hall office. (MTSU/A. Heidt)
Dr. Judith Iriarte-Gross’ nearly 18 years of being a passionate advocate for promoting four areas of science as career possibilities for girls and young women has led to special recognition from MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee.
McPhee presented Iriarte-Gross with the President’s Silver Column Award Feb. 4 in a small ceremony inside her office in Wiser-Patten Science Hall. She becomes the fifth recipient of the honor since he implemented the award in 2004.
“This validates the hard work all of us have been doing,” Iriarte-Gross said, discussing what the award means to her and mentioning the many volunteers who assist every year with events that girls can attend or workshops that adults participate in that can lead girls to choose a science, technology, engineering or mathematics — or STEM — career to pursue.
“We have to have girls in STEM education today for the STEM work force of tomorrow,” Iriarte-Gross added. “Girls want to see role models who look like them, are from the same town and are in STEM. They see these role models being successful and happy in their STEM careers.”
McPhee praised Iriarte-Gross, who is an MTSU chemistry professor, director of the MTSU Women in STEM Center and director of the annual Expanding Your Horizons conferences and Girls Raised in Tennessee Science (GRITS) workshops that bring STEM awareness to girls.
“It is designed to recognize employees who go above and beyond the call of duty, extraordinary individuals who really show their commitment to the university,” McPhee said in making the presentation of the silver pin with MTSU blue inlays, representing the shape of the Kirksey Old Main building columns.
He said Iriarte-Gross does this through her “caring for students and doing those things that really reach beyond what the expectations are. You certainly exhibit every characteristic associated with being an outstanding faculty member, an outstanding person.”
McPhee said he has watched Iriarte-Gross’ commitment through the years, “not only the GRITS program, but the attention you’ve paid to your students, the quality teaching … and you don’t expect anything in return for it, you don’t expect any kind of recognition.”
“You’ve changed a lot of lives,” he said to her, adding that she serves as a
“role model for faculty when it comes to caring for, teaching, retention, graduation — you open up the dictionary, and your picture is there under those categories.”
"Judith has championed the cause of making science more interesting and vital to young girls and, in doing so, has changed lives for the better across the nation," said MTSU Provost Brad Bartel. "She is an inspiration to her peers and students and her scholarship and service has bolstered our university."
First-year College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Bud Fischer said Iriarte-Gross “is a tireless worker with a real passion for the cause of increasing women in the STEM disciplines. Through her numerous activities she leads or is involved with, she has been able to touch the lives of a large number of young girls and women and have fueled their love of science.”
Previous recipients include:
• Sherian Huddleston, former associate vice provost for enrollment services and now retired;
• Larry Sizemore, supervisor of ground services;
• Suma Clark, former director of publications and graphics (now Creative and Visual Services) who retired, but serves as a web management team project coordinator in a part-time capacity for the university; and
• the late Dr. Charles Wolfe, who was a distinguished folklorist, author and English professor.
“Wow, I’m honored to be in the company of such notable past recipients,” Iriarte-Gross said.
Iriarte-Gross is coordinating this week’s GRITS Collaborative Project Annual Conference. It runs today through Friday, Feb. 8, in the Tom H. Jackson Building.