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Sandra Russo-Rodriguez passes away

Memorial on Saturday for beloved chemistry senior lecturer who made STEM accessible to students

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Russo-Rodriguez (center) was granted a Student and Employee Accessibility Services award in May 2017 alongside Daniel Crowell ’17 (right) and Sarah Libfrained '17 (left).

Sandra Russo-Rodriguez, senior lecturer in the department of chemistry, passed away last Saturday, according to a University press release. Russo-Rodriguez’s office door was always open, and she inspired students every day as both a dedicated teacher and advisor.

In both of her offices at the University, she hung up a sign reading “never give up,” which was “not just a mantra for her students but also for herself,” said her son, Carlos Rodriguez-Russo MD ’18. This sign exemplifies the persistence that motivated her career, he said.

Russo-Rodriguez earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry, magna cum laude, at the University of Puerto Rico in 1979. She then studied organic chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she obtained a PhD in 1983. While at MIT, she met Andres Rodriguez, who would become her husband.

“I met her in a party at MIT for students and the Latin American Society. From the get-go, she was very driven, very unassuming but brilliant. Our dates were mainly talking and going for long walks,” Rodriguez said. “She had a very strong drive to help others.”

After earning her PhD, Russo-Rodriguez “had a successful career as a research chemist for nearly two decades. In her positions at Amgen and Polaroid, she authored more than twenty scientific publications and 11 patents,” according to the press release. At Amgen, she worked in medicinal chemistry, inflammation and neurobiology as a supervisor and team member. At Polaroid, she served as a research chemist for digital imaging research, according to her resume.

In 2005, Russo-Rodriguez came to the University as a lecturer in chemistry. She was “committed to making STEM fields as accessible and inclusive as possible, and she provided exceptional support and teaching to students from all backgrounds,” the press release stated. She taught a tutorial program for CHEM 330: “Equilibrium, Rate and Structure,” Chem 0100: “Introductory Chemistry” and summer Chem 0100 for web. In July 2017, she was promoted to senior lecturer.

Russo-Rodriguez dedicated herself to students both in and outside of the classroom. In 2006, she became an advisor for first-and second-year students. In March 2014, she received a Teaching and Advising Award from the Undergraduate Council of Students for her “demonstrated outstanding commitment to teaching and student mentorship,” the press release stated. Most recently, she received the Student and Employee Accessibility Services Access Ambassador Award in May for her “exceptional awareness, inclusiveness and support for students with disabilities,” according to the press release.

“All I can say is that my mom was just an incredible mother. … I think one of her first educational successes was helping me believe that I deserved to be successful,” Rodriguez-Russo said, adding that she mirrored this practice in her teaching and helped countless students realize that they deserve to meet their goals. Russo-Rodriguez’s family is “going through a lot of grief,” her son said, but they have been “overwhelmed with support from the Brown community.”

Members of the Chemistry Department will gather in remembrance of Russo-Rodriguez today in MacMillan 115. The community will have the opportunity to attend a memorial service at 2 p.m. in Manning Chapel Saturday.