Dr. Fortenberry

The W's 2018 Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award recipient was described as “a model of professionalism to all women who seek to become scientists.”

Dr. Dionne Fortenberry, chair of The W’s Department of Sciences and Mathematics, was honored at a luncheon today on campus attended by university administrators, faculty, student and staff representatives, past award recipients and guests.

For the past 18 years, Fortenberry has taught chemistry courses and quantitative analysis at The W. From the beginning of her teaching career at the university, her focus has been on STEM and women of color in STEM.

Dr. Brian Anderson, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education, said, “Dr. Fortenberry is everything a department chair should be—both to faculty colleagues and to students aspiring to careers in science and organizational leadership.

“She has a skill that many academics would find challenging. She is able to accommodate Honors students headed to medical school and those who cannot get through intermedia algebra. She meets her students whey they are and encourages them to succeed, particularly women interested in STEM.”

As chair, professor and adviser, Dr. Fortenberry mentors and encourages students to explore careers in STEM. This past year, she helped two students secure placement with the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Commission, which seeks to train aspiring doctors to work in Mississippi’s underserved and rural populations. Additionally, one of her international students was recognized by HEADWAE (Higher Education Appreciation Day, Working for Academic Excellence). Through the support of the department, this student will present her research at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Science.

Dr. Fortenberry oversees the work of the Sonia Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day for high school girls. This event exposes young women to hands-on projects led by W math and science faculty. She also served as regional coordinator for the U.S. Department of Energy National Science Bowl from 2007-2016.

Last year, The W hosted its first “Imagine, Inspire, Challenge” STEM symposium designed to highlight current research in heart disease, as well as provide information for aspiring student researchers about career paths. As part of the two-day event, Dr. Fortenberry and her department hosted distinguished scientists and researchers in STEM, including Dr. Doris Taylor, who directs the Regenerative Medicine Research Department at the Texas Heart Institute and the Center for Cell and Organ Biotechnology at Texas Heart Institute and Texas A&M University. Dr. Fortenberry organized the presentation of student research in health-related fields and successfully brought together hundreds of participants and guests.

Dr. Erin Kempker, chair of the Department of History, Political Science, and Geography, said, “Dr. Fortenberry encourages women to pursue math and encourages international students to find success on our campus. She has done so for almost two decades at The W. She is an example and inspiration to all the girls and women she meets, who dream of becoming scientists themselves.”

“Her work in the field of chemistry, her work as a department chair and her work as a teacher and mentor demonstrate her commitment to the idea that everyone with the ability, drive and determination should be able to succeed in science,” she added.

Dr. Fortenberry’s professional involvement includes memberships in the American Chemical Society, Alpha Epsilon Delta and Gamma Sigma Epsilon. She has served in numerous leadership positions within these organizations, including chair of the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences and as secretary of the Mississippi section of the American Chemical Society.

She earned her doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi and bachelor of science degree from Dillard University in New Orleans.

Each year IHL gives each university the opportunity to nominate one individual for the IHL Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award. Nominees are evaluated based on positive contributions to the campus and the state, including advancing diversity on campus and within the university campus community, exemplifying service universities provide to local communities and the state, and demonstrating accomplishments that have benefited all Mississippians. Each university nominee will be recognized in conjunction with the IHL Board meeting Thursday, Feb 15.