Zaida Morales-Martinez was born and reared in the small town of Naranjito, Puerto Rico. Catholic high school days led to the University of Puerto Rico where she earned her Bachelor's degree in Chemistry, and then to the Pennsylvania State University for her Master's degree in Analytical Chemistry. Returning to the island, she assumed the faculty position of her long-time mentor when he departed the University of Puerto Rico. Her life pathway continued first to Florida State University and, in 1973, to Florida International University where her distinguished career began to unfold. In those early years, she was the only woman in her department and, as she notes "It was fitting that I started mentoring not only students, but new faculty membersalways remembering what I had learned from my mentors."
Her love of chemistry led her to membership in the Florida International University chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS). In 1992, the President of that organization appointed her to the Society's task force on attracting minority students into the chemical sciences. The task force recommended the creation of the ACS Scholars Program (for which Zaida is the Mentoring Consultant) and since 1995 the program has worked to broaden participation and increase the presence of students from underrepresented groups in the chemical sciences. Zaida's position gave her, as she says " ... the opportunity to do my holistic mentoring to thousands of minority students all over the country." ACS scholars affectionately refer to her as "Mama Z!"
She coordinates the ACS Project SEED at Florida International University. Project SEED (Summer Experiences for the Economically Disadvantaged) places students in academic, industrial, and government laboratories for an eight-to-ten week intensive program of hands-on research. She has organized mentoring workshops for program volunteers, and she personally mentors and provides follow-on help to struggling students. Zaida's mentoring has been a key feature in the success of the ACS Scholars program: 2,568 minority undergraduate students have been mentored and received over $16 million in support from the ACS. Of the 1,507 students who have already completed their bachelor's degrees, 42 percent entered graduate programs and 34 percent joined the chemical workforce. A total of 191 ACS Scholars have earned doctoral degrees. Over the lifetime of the program, 57 percent of the scholars have been women, 51 percent African-American, 43 percent Hispanic/Latino, and six percent Native American.
Ms. Morales-Martinez received the Faculty Outstanding Service Award (1985) and the President's Affirmative Action Award (1993) from Florida International University. In 2004, the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation sponsored her award from the American Chemical Society for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences.