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SSU professor recognized as one of America’s inspiring Black scientists

March 5, 2021

Growing up in Queens, New York, Omayra Ortega always knew she liked numbers more than words. It’s a reason why one of her two degrees from Pomona College in Southern California is in Mathematics — the other in music. “I like the idea of order existing in the universe,” she said. 

In recognition of her work in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics field, Cell Press included Ortega, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics at Sonoma State University, in their list of 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists in America. According to Cell Press, the list shines a light on Black scientists’ contributions to the field while encouraging the next generation of Black professionals to pursue careers in STEM. 

Ortega said a significant draw to her coming to Sonoma State in 2018 was because the faculty and staff of the Department of Mathematics were strong proponents of diversity and equity. “SSU is trying to make sure it represents all of its students well,” she said. “The Math Department is making efforts to ensure it represents people of color, and we must make STEM, in general, more inclusive, not just at Sonoma State.” 

Ortega’s interests include the application of mathematics to areas such as computational biology, infectious diseases, and epidemiology in developing countries. Beyond what Ortega can solve with numbers, she also has a connection to women and minorities’ participation in science. She is the organizer of this year’s Sonia Kovalevsky High School 

Mathematics Day for Women, which recognizes the day’s namesake, the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. This event engages middle and high school girls in lectures, games, and hands-on mathematical activities to inspire them to pursue degrees in the mathematical sciences.

“SK Day is a wonderful opportunity to engage young women in mathematics and to make them aware of the many opportunities that are out there in STEM, beyond those they might have seen in their communities,” said Elisabeth Wade, dean of the School of Science and Technology.  “We in the School of Science and Technology are so pleased to support Dr. Ortega in her outreach work and know she has a very positive impact.” 

Ortega initially wanted to become a doctor when she began her undergraduate studies in 1996 but quickly changed course and worked her way to an M.S. and Ph.D. in applied mathematics and computational science from the University of Iowa. Before coming to SSU, she held positions in the healthcare industry and was an assistant professor at Arizona State University for nine years.

Learn more about Omaraya Ortega on her website. Discover more about SSU’s Department of Mathematics at