Photo: Jason Varney Photography

For Ben Ortiz, an assistant professor in biology at Hunter College of the City University of New York, a career in science was something he couldn't imagine when he was growing up. Now, he works to convince his students that they, too, have broader prospects, particularly in the sciences.

Ortiz grew up in the diverse, low-to-middle income community of Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY. After a microbiology course in high school piqued his interest, he enrolled at Hunter with the intention of becoming a medical technician like his mother.

Being "ruled by practical considerations," which often goes hand-in-hand with a disadvantaged background, was a serious obstacle to pursuing science, Ortiz recalls. In his freshman year, when a professor talked to him about the possibility of graduate school in science, Ortiz told him, "I don't have that kind of time. I have to go out and get...

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