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Alum Kevin Ortega Is All Business at Mercer as He Supplements Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry


Kevin Ortega is back at Mercer to add business skills to his resume.

Kevin Ortega, second from left, at MCCC's 2016 Commencement with his Organic Chemistry classmates and Professor Helen Tanzini.

Ortega and his classmates carry out experiments during the Honors Symposium in December 2015.

West Windsor, N.J. – For Kevin Ortega '16, (A.S., Biology, A.S., Chemistry), returning to Mercer County Community College (MCCC) this fall makes perfect business sense. Having completed his bachelor's degree in Chemistry at Rowan University in May, he is now taking a full load of MCCC business classes to help him secure a job in pharmaceutical sales.

Ortega says it's kind of like returning home. “Mercer was key to unlocking my potential. I met great professors and great students. I felt connected to the community," he said.

Ortega's experience at Rowan proved just as beneficial. “I was well prepared academically and emotionally,” he said. "The first year I lived in a dorm and the second year I had a condo near campus with two roommates. I liked the experience of being away. It helped me to strengthen my character.”

A graduate of Nottingham High School, Ortega had no clear idea of what he wanted to study when he first started at Mercer, but he knew he needed a college degree and MCCC was his best choice. “It had the reputation, a convenient location, and tuition that was affordable,” he said.

Staff members in MCCC’s Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) helped him get focused and serious. “They made sure I got everything I could out of being a Mercer student,” Ortega said. Still, due to some family challenges, Ortega recalls occasional rough patches.

“I went through some times when I felt lost. At one point, I failed an entire semester. I thought I might drop out. After that, I knew I had nowhere to go but up,” he said.

With the support of family and friends, Ortega got back on track. “I’m glad I fell down. It makes you stronger. I want other students to know that we all go through tough times. You have to talk to people. You just have to keep swimming,” he advises.

Ortega rededicated himself to his education, spending a summer studying independently for his second try at Chemistry 101. The time was well spent as he went from an “F” to an “A” on his second attempt.

Ortega was further inspired to pursue the sciences after suffering a neck injury. “I was really impressed with the doctor who treated me. I thought I might want to be a doctor and started to work towards that goal by studying chemistry and biology,” he explained.

In his final year at Mercer, Ortega decided he could put his buoyant personality to good use by running for president of the Organic Chemistry Club. In his speech to his classmates, he said, “I’m not the smartest guy in the room, but if I succeed, you will too.

“I was good at bringing people together,” he adds. “We became like a family and Mercer was our home.”

According to Ortega, his Honors Organic Chemistry class with Professor Helen Tanzini was a game changer. “It demanded everything of us,” he said, noting that the group would study together before tests and in special sessions on Fridays, a day that typically followed Ortega’s overnight shift at CVS.

Ortega and his classmates took the club to a new level, playing games and carrying out activities together. They even ran a basketball game at the college’s Spring Day. “We called it ’Stabilize the Molecule,’” he recalled.

At Rowan, Ortega continued to grow. “Mercer prepared me for everything that came my way. I even joined a fraternity, although I did not live in the house. This was all new to me,” he reflected.

Ortega gradually came to recognize his strengths in public speaking, along with his leadership skills. He met people who worked in pharmaceutical sales and began to think this was a field where he could combine his science knowledge with his people skills. “But I had no background in business and potential employers wanted to see that,” he said.

While Ortega got a good job offer to work in the lab of a major corporation, he just did not see himself doing lab work indefinitely. “I wanted to stay on the path to my goal,” he said.

To that end, Ortega is currently taking five business courses at MCCC. “I will then start reapplying for pharmaceutical sales jobs,” he said. He eventually plans to earn his MBA.

Ortega has already displayed good business sense. With the help of a steady paycheck throughout his years at Mercer, along with academic scholarships, he graduated from Rowan debt-free.

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