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NIGMS Logo NIGMS > Minority Programs Update > Fall 2003 > Profile: Dr. Roberto Frontera-Suau

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This section profiles former MORE participants who have excelled in their fields. We hope that the profiles will give students an idea of the types of careers available with science degrees and the paths others have taken to achieve those careers.

Love of Science and Teaching Developed by MORE

Update (March 4, 2009):

Frontera-Suau continues to work at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, where he is now an associate professor in the department of biology. He studies microbial ecology and bioremediation of hydrocarbons and is active in projects related to curriculum development and technology-enhanced teaching strategies.

photo of Dr. Roberto Frontera-Suau

Dr. Roberto Frontera-Suau showed an interest in science at an early age.

"As a child I was always the curious one," he said, "poking my head everywhere and asking questions about nature and my surroundings."

Frontera-Suau thought he would one day become a veterinarian or a medical doctor. And although he always liked science, it wasn't until the first semester of his sophomore year at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, that he truly fell in love with it.

It was then that Frontera-Suau met Dr. Alejandro Ruiz, whom he considers his first science mentor. Frontera-Suau challenged himself by taking three of Ruiz's classes in addition to working as an assistant in his lab.

"By the end of that semester I was exhausted, but I was also hooked on science, research, and teaching," he said.

Frontera-Suau went on to earn a bachelor's degree in industrial microbiology from the university in 1988 followed by a master's degree in microbiology in 1991. After a 3-year stint at a pharmaceutical research company, he returned to school at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where he earned a Ph.D. in microbiology in 2000.

Frontera-Suau attributes much of his success to two NIGMS minority programs: Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) and the Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Award (IRACDA). Both served as valuable resources by providing Frontera-Suau with the right tools to nurture his research career.

The IRACDA program encourages scientists to combine research and teaching. The program combines a traditional mentored postdoctoral research experience with an opportunity to develop teaching skills through mentored assignments at a minority-serving institution. The goals of the program are to provide a resource to motivate the next generation of scientists at minority-serving institutions, and to promote linkages between research-intensive institutions and minority-serving institutions that can lead to further research and teaching collaborations.

For more on the program, see

During graduate school, the MARC program provided Frontera-Suau with an annual stipend, tuition assistance, and other training-related expenses. In addition, the program gave him the opportunity to present his work at national scientific conferences for the first time.

"This definitely opened my horizons and helped me realize that there was a whole world out there in which I was able to compete," Frontera-Suau said.

During his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the IRACDA program helped him prepare for a career in teaching as well as research (see sidebar). Frontera-Suau said the program was the "answer to my prayers," enabling him to meet people who shared similar interests.

"This to me was very valuable at the time, and the ties that formed then continue to have great value now," he remarked.

For Frontera-Suau, who is now an assistant professor of biology at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, science offers many rewards and fulfillments, one of which is feeling a sense of creativity from his research.

"As a microbiologist, working with living organisms has the thrill of the unexpected-and when things don't work out as planned, you have the fun task of finding out why. If you are good, the answer to one question should only bring new questions to the surface," he explained.

Although Frontera-Suau is confident that he would have become a teacher even if he hadn't participated in MORE's programs, he believes that the two programs encouraged him to pursue his Ph.D. and to teach.

"Without MORE opening my eyes to what was possible, I don't think I would have broken out of my shell," he commented.

Frontera-Suau advises students considering scientific careers to be confident in their career decision.

"It is a hard road to travel and the rewards aren't always what you expect," he explained, "but if you really have that innate curiosity in you and a wish to share it with others, you will get through the worst days with flying colors."

If you know an outstanding former MARC, MBRS, or Bridges participant who has excelled professionally and you would like to nominate that person as a future Update profile subject, please let us know. Your suggestions are always welcome.

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