Skip to content Skip to navigation




"She is one of the most influential people in chemical education in the United States, “wrote Clemson University Professor I. Dwaine Eubanks about Mary Virginia Orna. She has been "honored for her excellence in teaching," he continues, "for her writings on the history of chemistry, for her role in developing important teaching materials, for her research on ancient pigments, and for her lectures interpreting science for the public. Her contributions are marked both by wonderful creativity as a scientist and by extraordinarily skillful communication of the meaning and significance of scientific discoveries." 

These comments merely touch the surface of enthusiasm from students and colleagues in both academia and industry that greeted Mary Virginia Orna's nomination for the Distinguished Achievement Award. Following her years at Chestnut Hill, Mary Virginia continued her education at Fordham University, where she earned a master's degree in chemistry (1958) and a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry (1962). She also earned a master's degree in religious education from the Catholic University of America (1967). 

A faculty member since 1966 at the College of New Rochelle, which is founded and administered by her religious community, the Order of St. Ursula, Mary Virginia chaired its Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and its chemistry department. In conjunction with the New York City Urban League, she also developed and managed a laboratory science curriculum for the Harlem Street Academy, which introduced specific high school equivalency courses to high school dropouts. Since 1997, she has been serving as Director of Educational Services at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia. Her honors, awards and grants include the prestigious Merck Innovation Award in Undergraduate Science Education (1989), the CASE New York State Professor of the Year Award and National Gold Medal (1989), a Fulbright Research/Lectureship for Israel (1994-95), and the Chemical Manufacturers Association National Catalyst Award for Excellence in College Teaching of Chemistry (1984). 

Mary Virginia Orna is internationally recognized as a superb teacher of both the young student and the experienced teacher, as a gifted researcher, and as the author of more than 45 articles for science and education journals and encyclopedias. She is regarded in the United States as project director on more than ten science education grants, one of which - funded at $1.4 million by the National Science Foundation over three years and known as ChemSource - transformed high school chemistry education across the country. Harvard University Ph.D. candidate Wen Chen, a graduate of the College of New Rochelle, recalls that "among students, Sr. Orna is remembered for her brilliance, her warmth and her infectious enthusiasm." Professor A. Truman Schwartz of Macalaster College says that "the fact that she's a superb teacher underlies all of her contributions" to chemical education. "She shares her scholarship widely, both in this country and abroad." In fact, Professor Schwartz continues, "Mary Virginia possesses one other characteristic that … motivates all of her achievements. She is one of the kindest, most considerate, most decent human beings I have ever met. I suspect that her effectiveness as a teacher and her great contributions to chemical education reflect, above all, her love of humanity and her vocation of service." 

Last year, the American Chemical Society recognized the quality, volume, and breadth of Mary Virginia Orna's contributions by awarding her the George C. Pimentel Award, the highest and most prestigious award in chemical education.

Read More