Chemistry from Venezuela

A long way from home, Dr. Otsmar Villarroel and Dr. Ivanna Laboren were hired as adjunct chemistry professors at the university this past summer.

Chemistry professor and department chair Dr. Ruth Ann Murphy, expressed her excitement about the new faculty.

“We’re just really glad to have them, and I like the diversity they bring to the department,” she said.

Natives of Caracas, Venezuela, the two majored in chemistry at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, one of the oldest universities in the western hemisphere. Founded in 1721, this university of more than 65,000 students is the largest of the country.

Dr. Ivanna Laboren goes through the chemistry lesson with teacher’s aide Jeff Heneman. Photo by Christian Hernandez/The Bells.

Villarroel and Laboren worked together on their bachelor’s theses at UCV and graduated in 2005 with degrees in chemistry. They decided to look abroad for graduate work.

From Caracas they decided to move to Waco, and Baylor University was their choice for graduate school as they pursued their doctorates.Baylor Professor Carlos Manzanares, also a native of Venezuela and alumnus of UCV, recruited them to attend Baylor for their doctoral work.

Villarroel said, “(We) came together to Baylor, where we joined the same lab to perform our doctoral research, where we published six scientific articles. Our research was based on research with lasers and mass spectrometry.”

Mass spectrometry is a technique for measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of charged particles. Their research impressed the professors at Baylor, which in turn led to the referral to work at the university.

“I have friends at Baylor University,” Murphy said, “and when the opening came about after Dr. (Darrell) Watson retired, I was in communication with people at Baylor, and so they suggested these two apply for the position.”

Villarroel and Laboren graduated this past December from Baylor with their doctorates and are now adjunct professors not only for UMHB but also McLennan Community College in Waco.

After Watson’s retirement concluding his 31 years with UMHB, the chemistry department needed additional faculty, and Villarroel and Laboren wanted experience at a university.

“I decided to teach at UHMB with the idea of gaining experience in teaching in a big university environment,” Villarroel said.

The professors oversee labs and teach classes.

They have adapted well to the university and enjoy the experience.

“What I like about UMHB is (it’s) a small university, so you actually know your students, and the students can reach you as a professor,” Laboren said.

On the long journey from Venezuela to central Texas, the two professors have remained close friends.

“Our relationship is a really good relationship,” Villarroel said, “More than 12 years of friendship.”

Author: Christian Hernandez

Bio info coming soon!

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