Graceland graduate Paloma Ortiz ‘15 is a busy woman with a plan to move justice forward. She is excited about her career and the direction her life is going. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Spanish/Chemistry minors, she was accepted to Emporia State University’s Master of Science program in forensics. “I moved there right after graduation and started right back in school without a break. It was really hard. Emporia is a large public university – very different from Graceland,” explained Paloma.
Paloma originally thought she would attend a university in New York, but when she visited Graceland, she felt comfortable and liked the intimate campus and small town. “Graceland offered a great package and when I came to visit, I liked that it was so small. I’m from Puerto Rico, which is a small island, and so the small town and school suited me. I thought – this is a really nice little place.”
Recruited by Kevin Brown, Director of Admissions, Paloma said she had a hard time the first few months her freshman year. She was an only child and was homesick, so she went to his office to talk through those feelings. He assured her she could make it through the transitions. She got involved with several campus organizations and kept her mind busy. “Kevin became like a father to me, and I got busy with International Club and Polynesian Club, I was a thrower for track, I had three different work-study jobs, and it kept my mind off missing home.”
Ortiz explained that she struggled with the rigorous requirements and scholarship of the biology major at Graceland, but that the encouragement from faculty like Dr. Mary Shawgo and Dr. Terry Foster kept her focused. “It was really hard to be a biology major. The classes were very challenging, but the science faculty and Mrs. Hosie from the TRiO program were always encouraging me to keep going. Mrs. Hosie helped me with my application process for the forensics degree at Emporia.”
Ortiz knew she didn’t want to go into criminal justice through law enforcement, but still felt the pull to try and make things right; to help fight for justice. Forensic science became a way for her to answer the calling. “I like knowing that I am helping to find justice for these people. They can’t tell their story, so we tell the story for them through what we see. It’s sad, but it is good. It’s not like on TV, though – it takes much longer to solve cases; like months or even years. I never thought I’d be working with dead bodies, but I like it. I want to work for about five years in this field and then maybe get my doctorate as a licensed physician’s assistant.”
Paloma will graduate in May with a Master of Science in forensic science with emphasis in Forensic DNA/Forensic Pathology/Forensic Entomology and has a job lined up right after graduation. “I’m interning right now in Kansas for Shawnee County Coroner’s office, and after I graduate, I’ll have a full-time job there as a forensic pathologist assistant/technician. At first, it was hard because I hadn’t seen a real body until I was in my internship there. A cadaver and a human body are completely different – they smell different.”
“Life is like a puzzle, everyone has to put the pieces together, and no one can do it for you,” explained Paloma. Graceland is proud to spotlight Paloma’s accomplishments and to answer the question that she is often asked: is Paloma your name or your “House?” She is happy to answer, “Both!”