Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Spotlight on science education program manager Deedee Ortiz

Written by
Anna Masciandaro
Oct. 8, 2021

“I am proud to call myself Puerto Rican.”

As PPPL celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, we are highlighting some of our staff and asking them to tell us about themselves and discuss what the month means to them. This is the third installment of a weekly series throughout the month.

Deedee Ortiz is a Science Education program manager who helps organize and run many of PPPL’s college internships and outreach events like the Young Women’s Conference in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education. She has been at the lab for 10 years.

Before coming to PPPL, Ortiz worked at Pfizer and was a stay-at-home mom. In the early 2000s Ortiz started as a receptionist in the security department at Pfizer. After about a year she became an administrator in the security offices and then a year later she was promoted to executive assistant to the U.S. chief security officer. In 2008, she left Pfizer because she wanted to stay home and take care of her new baby. Ortiz joined the Lab in January 2011 as a part-time administrator but transitioned to the Science Education department after a few months when her term expired.

Oritz was born and raised in New York City. Both of her parents and all of her aunts and uncles on both sides of the family were born in Puerto Rico.

She resides in Lawrence, New Jersey, but she considers Puerto Rico to be home as her mom’s side of the family, her parents, and two sisters currently live there. Ortiz has three children: Keliann, 24; Christopher, 22; and Jayson, 14.

Q. What is your position?

A. Program manager in the Science Education Office.

Q. Please describe your job:

A. I manage the majority of our highly visible outreach events including Science on Saturday, the (U.S. Department of Energy’s) New Jersey Regional Middle and High School Science Bowls, the Young Women's Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) and the Community College Internship (CCI) programs. I’m also Laboratory Education Director liaison for the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS). I manage Science Education’s day-to-day administrative duties and I’m an occasional assistant to Andrew Zwicker, the head of the Office of Communications and Public Outreach.

I’m a total people person and my position allows me to interact with so many people. It’s what I’ve missed the most this past year-and-a-half. Also, I’m a planner and I absolutely geek out when my events are taking place and things go well. Getting to interact with our interns is also super-gratifying. We make an impact on so many people’s lives and it feels like I’m leaving my own mark on this corner of the world.”

Q. Please tell us three things about yourself.

A.

  1. I love to dance. I love all music and my favorite thing to do is dance salsa. Secretly, I’m super clumsy and I’ve nailed some pretty ungraceful landings in my day, but that will never stop me from salsa dancing!
  2. My therapy is baking. I love to make breads, cakes, French macarons, flavored flans, crème brûlée, and Puerto Rican pastries, just to name a few. You have to focus on the science of baking and forgetting about everything else for a little while or you’ll ruin your yummies. It’s just very Zen for me. My mom and paternal grandpa taught me to make some of the best Puerto Rican food, mostly traditional and some that they made up that’s followed me throughout the years. I hope to pass this onto my own kids.”
  3. “My happy place is at any beach in Puerto Rico. Bonus points if there is dancing at the beach. I love Puerto Rico beaches. There are about 300 of them on the Island and surrounding little islands. My bucket list tells me that I have to visit all of them. So far, I’m up to about 60.

Q. What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

A. My culture is a blend of Taino (the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean), Spanish, and African cultures leading to a melting pot of traditions from food, music, art, and dance. Puerto Ricans are strong, brazen, resilient people and despite the fact that history has not been kind, we take great pride in our history. I am proud to call myself Puerto Rican.

Recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month makes me feel validated as a Latina. We are everywhere and it is important to acknowledge the contributions that Hispanics and Latino(a)s have given to the world throughout history. Celebrating Hispanic heritage, and dedicating time to recognize other ethnicities and cultures reminds us that we are all together in this world.

Q. What does working at PPPL mean to you?

A. Knowing what I know now about PPPL and its mission, I thank my lucky stars for the opportunity to work here. Every day I learn something new! I really believe that when the fusion puzzle is solved, it’s going to change the world for the better and I will be a tiny speck in that. I have the honor of sharing a work environment with some of the most brilliant minds in the world. I feel like we’re family.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov