Carolyn Ortiz Has Led in Helping Others
by Vincent Reda
Given bright students of extraordinary character, often the best thing a university can do is provide them with many opportunities and enjoy the results.
Such a case is senior Carolyn Ortiz. She is most grateful for her experiences at UAlbany, yet those touched by her contributions on campus and beyond have been equally rewarded.
This year's president of the campus Middle Earth Peer Assistance Program, Ortiz joined the student-run organization as a sophomore in the fall of 2004 and quickly expanded her abilities and workload. Upon completion of what Middle Earth director M. Dolores Cimini calls "a long and challenging training curriculum," Ortiz became a "peer educator," conducting programs in classrooms, residence halls or for other Middle Earth volunteers, guiding on how to constructively impact the lives of students in need of counseling and lifestyle change.
Based on Ortiz's "unique level of commitment as a leader," Cimini selected her as a co-presenter in November 2005 at the national conference of the BACCHUS network, a university and community-based organization affiliated with more than 1,000 campuses worldwide which promotes healthful lifestyle decisions concerning alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use, unhealthy sexual practices and other high-risk behaviors.
Ortiz was also chosen as a member of the Middle Earth team which received advanced training, through a National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant, in dealing with students who abuse alcohol.
In all, her portfolio of accomplishments as a peer facilitator recently earned Ortiz a 2006 Outstanding Student Award from BACCHUS.
Those efforts, plus the diligence to compile an excellent academic record as a psychology major and education minor — winning the Spellman Academic Achievement Award in both 2004-5 and 2005-6 — might be thought sufficient to consume most of anyone's available time. Yet, Ortiz has somehow found more hours in her days — to work on many University-wide committees dealing with high-risk behavior, help with the organization of the Relay for Life to fight cancer, and be a member of this year's UAlbany's team in the American Heart Walk.
An avid photographer, she has also squeezed into her schedule three years of membership with University Photo Service, rising to the position of secretary in 2005-06 and co-chief this year. She is also secretary of the 2006-07 Torch yearbook staff. She manages all this while putting in 16 hours per week working at The Gap.
Not wanting to let vacation time go to waste, she spends her winter vacations as a teacher's assistant or substitute teacher at her hometown Merrimack School District in New Hampshire. Spring break of 2006 was spent in Ecuador, studying after-school programs in Duran and visiting leprosy patients at a hospital in Guayaquil.
"How can anyone be bored at a university of this size and scope?" asked Ortiz. "The opportunity to reach out to my fellow students and to work with a number of amazing professors, like Dr. Cimini at Middle Earth and Dr. Heidi Andrade in education, has been especially inspirational.
"Initially, I may have wondered if I was taking on too much. But it's a process where you learn about yourself. And that's been the most rewarding thing."
Ortiz plans to pursue a graduate degree in counseling in order to work with high school students, "who are looking forward to college and also dealing with many life-planning issues."
Before that, she would like at least one more accomplishment at UAlbany. "I've just had time to work behind the scenes the last few years at Photo Service," she said. "I plan on getting out there next year and really taking some pictures."