Mary Jo's Story (she/her)
Se:kon! My name is Mary Jo Ondrechen. I am a Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Northeastern University in Boston. I am also a proud Two-Spirit member of Mohawk Nation, a researcher, a teacher, and an activist.
In a time when many girls were told that their future roles were limited, my parents told me that I could do and be anything if I tried hard enough. They told me so many times that I believed them. I loved observing the world around me from the time I was a small child, from the stars in the sky to the creatures that roamed the land and the ocean. Being a scientist and a professor was my dream, even though nobody around me did those things.
I am now living my dream. In my research, I study how enzymes work, and I create methods to identify how they serve as catalysts with such incredible activity and specificity under mild conditions. I develop theory and techniques to interpret genomes and invent methods for the prediction of the function of proteins. I also work on the computational side of drug discovery, recently including targets for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
I love my research and I love teaching. This spring, I am graduating two new PhDs who are about to launch their own careers as independent scientists; afterward, my research group will still have five PhD students, one Master’s student, and three undergraduates. I am active in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and in the American Chemical Society (ACS) and other organizations that promote science education, research, and discovery. Promoting diversity and inclusion in STEM is one of my passions, including encouraging diverse students to become college and university professors.
Another passion of mine is advocacy for the environment, for protecting our Mother Earth and the land that is called Turtle Island in Haudenausaunee tradition. To all the students of science: I look forward to the day when the world makes it safe for all of us to bring our whole selves to the table. You have important roles to play as scientists and leaders in a world facing ever-more-complex technical and human challenges.