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Guiding Light

RISE coordinator Maura Loyola loves helping students succeed.


Maura Loyola headshotPassionate about helping students, Maura Loyola loves her new job as the Oklahoma State University RISE coordinator.


In her role she helps guide, assist and mentor freshmen and first-year transfer students in the Division of Institutional Diversity’s Retention Initiative for Student Excellence program, which was founded in 2006.


The 2012 Edmond (Oklahoma) Santa Fe High School graduate was a participant in OSU’s RISE program as an undergraduate and is now pursuing a master’s in social work.

“If it weren’t for RISE or my RISE coordinator, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” said Loyola, a first-generation college student whose parents immigrated from Mexico.


The year-long program helps students get a secure foundation while setting them up for future success. Academic, social and/or financial issues that may come up are addressed. Students get a minimum of 10 hours of assistance with their homework weekly, attend monthly workshops, are involved in at least one student organization and work to earn at least a 3.2 grade point average. 


“Many of our RISE participants are first-generation college students and getting them involved professionally, academically and helping them grow is pretty special,” Loyola said. “I enjoy my time with the students the most. They have these goals and they tell me how they are going to reach them. It’s great.”


“RISE was very important to me throughout freshman year because it was a sort of support group, a home away from home. Maura, for me and so many other students in RISE, was really like a mom. She would go above and beyond for you. Freshman year would have been so much harder if it weren’t for her support.”

- Diego Alvarado, Sophomore in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
Del City, Oklahoma

“Maura’s office is a safe place where I and others feel welcome and heard at all times. She helped me reach out to the Stillwater community by encouraging me to participate in Into the Streets (a day of community service). She has also helped me academically by keeping me updated and helping me with scholarships and organizational opportunities.”

- Courtney Noisette, Sophomore in theatre
Memphis, Tennessee

“Maura has been a blessing towards me and my life. She not only taught me how to better my patience and time management, but how to become a better person in and out of the classroom. Although she is new to RISE, she has great and evident potential and is nothing short of the right fit for RISE coordinator!”

- Ronald Camarena, Sophomore in Agribusiness
Oklahoma City

“Maura helped me to realize that I, just like everyone else around me, also have potential. She showed so much support for me when I wanted to apply to programs that I found scary but that I wanted to do. It is nice having someone away from home in your corner, and she was there to cheer me on. Overall, her willingness to believe in me helped me to believe in myself.”

- Isela Ortiz, Sophomore in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


Just My Being There Diversifies the Situation

Toby Nelson teaches organic chemistry — and so much more — at OSU.


Toby Nelson headshot

A sense of awe turned to confusion and finally sadness as Toby Nelson watched the Space Shuttle Challenger lift off before blowing apart 73 seconds into flight in January 1986.


The second-grader from Lake City, South Carolina, and his classmates were huddled around a television as hometown celebrity, physicist and NASA astronaut Ronald E. McNair was embarking on what would have been his second trip beyond Earth’s atmosphere aboard the Challenger space shuttle in 1986.


The disaster did not deter Nelson’s love of science, however. He remained inspired.

“Knowing that an African American from my small, rural and really poor town was a scientist trailblazer really inspired me,” said Nelson, a first-generation college student who went on to earn a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of South Carolina.


Nelson, now an associate professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Chemistry, is working to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers and health professionals. He teaches organic chemistry, which he calls the gateway to those professions.


“One day, those students are going to be the people who are building bridges, running plants and working as medical doctors, pharmacists and nurses,” Nelson said. “I have to make sure that they have the qualities that they need to do that job. It’s not just organic chemistry. The other qualities are critical thinking skills, problem solving, information processing and data interpretation. Those are the techniques I’m trying to get across to the students — I’m using organic chemistry as the tool to do that.”


Always looking for ways to offer encouragement, Nelson started a summer camp four years ago to give high school students hands-on experience in STEM-related sessions.

“I want to provide an opportunity for students who are from rural areas, from urban high schools, and are first-generation college students to come to Stillwater and be able to get some laboratory experience,” Nelson said. 


He understands there aren’t many African Americans in STEM at major state institutions and wants to make sure all students feel encouraged and capable.


“In my classroom, I may be the first African American they have seen teach them anything,” Nelson said. “Just my being there diversifies the situation. I am different. I come from a different background. I talk different. And I don’t try to move away from that. I want them to understand that who I am defines me but we are all on the same page, we are all trying to succeed, and my job is to make sure you get there.”




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