Wofford College’s 38th Presidential International Scholar will spend the 2021-2022 academic year studying the relationship between public health and culture in Argentina and South Africa.

Hector Ortiz ’22, a triple major from Saluda, South Carolina, studying biology, philosophy and Spanish, was selected for the independent research abroad experience.

“Hector has an undeniable passion for service and has served the Wofford campus and the greater Spartanburg community since he arrived at the college,” says Dr. Nayef Samhat, Wofford’s president. “His curiosity, thoughtfulness and carefully crafted research proposal should lead to meaningful work and discussion that will benefit our entire community.”

Ortiz’s research will focus specifically on how Argentina and South Africa manage tuberculosis and Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Jeremy Morris, assistant professor of biology, will serve as his faculty mentor. [The COVID-19 pandemic forced him to change countries. Ortiz studied in Ecuador and Kenya.]

“A better understanding of this relationship between public health and culture is vital to improving health outcomes of patients in all societies and will play a critical role in addressing inequities in health care that have become all too clear during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Ortiz, whose concentration is in medicine and the liberal arts.

Ortiz has honed his data collection and analysis skills over the past three years at Wofford. He’s worked on four different community engagement projects with collaborative teams consisting of faculty and students and has partnered with community organizations in Spartanburg.

The Presidential International Scholarship annually goes to “the student most likely to make a difference in the future” to conduct independent research in a non-traditional location. The scholar, selected by the president of the college, is a student with exceptional potential to benefit humankind, a passion for service learning and a globally-minded intellectual curiosity.

“I was speechless at first,” says Ortiz of the moment he learned he was selected to be the next Presidential International Scholar. “It feels very humbling. Since my start here at Wofford, I have always been engaged in the community and have been part of multiple projects and initiatives for the betterment of the community. I must thank everyone who played a role in my path to becoming who I am today. I could not have done it alone.”

Ortiz, who is a Bonner Scholar, plans to pursue postgraduate education in public health, health sciences and policy change. He is active on Wofford’s campus. He serves as treasurer for two organizations, the Organization of Latin American Students and the Wofford Asian and Pacific Islander Organization. He’s the event coordinator for the Wofford Anti-Racism Coalition, a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity.

An anonymous donor supports the presidential scholar’s travel and research expenses. Ortiz is planning his experience during a pandemic while getting familiar with the virus’ impact and responses to it in the countries where he’ll do his research.

“It definitely takes a lot of organization, planning and flexibility to travel during a pandemic,” says Ortiz. “I have increased hopes of success because of the development of vaccines against COVID-19. Vaccine rollout in Argentina is different than in the U.S., so there is lots to take into consideration. I am working with Amy Lancaster, dean of international programs, and the Office of International Programs to get a better understanding of the travel process while developing backup plans. I am grateful for the support Wofford staff and faculty have given me in this process.”