Maruchi Azorin-Blanco is a Tampa business woman who has a deep devotion to developing programs that will help provide an education for young people who face financial challenges. As a young child, Maruchi emigrated from Cuba with her parents after they lost their business and home because of the Castro revolution. Growing up, she was taught the value of education, hard work, and giving back to your community. Her parents instilled the pride of their Hispanic heritage and it has been ever-present throughout her life.

Anyone who has worked with Maruchi recognizes that her passion is genuine and infuses everything she pursues. Her community has recognized her work to include being named the 2011 Entrepreneur Business Woman of the Year and the 1999 Hispanic Woman of the Year.

In 2000, the US census showed that the growth of the Hispanic community in the US had grown by nearly 70% in Florida, which mirrors the pattern of Hispanic population growth on a national level. What stood out to Maruchi was the dropout rate of Hispanic middle school students. Thirty percent (30%) of Hispanic middle school students were dropping out of school as compared to 10% in the general population and 12.5% in the African American population.

Maruchi had read studies citing an important reason for this high drop-out rate was a lack of role-models to mentor and encourage them to stay in school. This problem was only exacerbated by a reported fact in her reading that two out of three Hispanic children lived in a household where neither parent had attended high school.

In the summer of 2001, Maruchi approached MOSI with an idea on how to inspire more Hispanic youth to stay in school and continue their education beyond high school. Why not create an award recognizing a highly acclaimed and nationally respected Hispanic scientist to MOSI? By partnering with community supporters of MOSI, her idea was to bring this scientist and economically at-risk kids from the community together for a day at MOSI and meet the scientist. She met with MOSI leadership and leaders in the TampaBay area, she pitched the idea – “Kids seeing scientists as rock stars!”

A lot of people listened to her passion-filled pleas to found and support this event. Thus, the MOSI National Hispanic Scientist of the Year (NHSOY) event was born. To date, the caliber of scientists who have been recognized is an impressive and distinguished list. Among the past recipients are a Nobel laureate, the First Woman US Surgeon General, a nuclear scientist and engineer who served as the Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Director for Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion for Strategic Defense, Directors of the US Institute of Drug Abuse and US Renewable Energy Research Laboratories, the Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Natural History Museum, and other highly respected scientists.

The community has bought into the event as well. With the help and support of MOSI’s leadership and Board, who share Maruchi’s vision for this event, this event has raised $1.4 million dollars in cumulative donations since the inaugural event in October, 2001. These funds are dedicated to supporting the kids who are members of the MOSI YES! team .

The growth of the award and the kids it supports has been phenomenal. In 2001, about 500 kids participated in “Meet the Scientist Day” at MOSI and the event raised $78,000. In 2013, MOSI hosted approximately 1,500 students and more than $360,000 was raised.

In 2014, the award was expanded as well to include both an Early Career scientist, Ana Maria Rey, and a distinguished scientist, Rafael L. Bras, as recipients of the .

We hope you will join Maruchi and all of us who support MOSI , its educational activities and operations, and MOSI’s National Hispanic Scientist of the Year.

Video by Professor Santiago Echeverry, Associate Professor of Art at The University of Tampa.