CORVALLIS - Miriam "Mimi" Orzech, an Oregon educator whose life work helped bring the benefits of higher education to thousands of African American, Hispanic American, American Indian, disabled and disadvantaged students, will retire in December.

Orzech, a pioneer in Oregon State University programs that helped nurture the ambitions and opportunities for minority students across the state, will be recognized at a reception Dec. 4, from 3-5 p.m., in OSU's Memorial Union Room 109. It is free and open to the public.

An endowed scholarship fund for minority students will also honor Orzech. Contributions may be made to the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experience, or SMILE program at OSU, telephone (541) 737-2388.

SMILE, in fact, was one of the crown jewels in Orzech's career. She co-founded the organization in 1988 as a way to help Oregon's Hispanic and American Indian youth in elementary, middle and high schools learn about, seek and succeed in professional careers in mathematics and science.

"SMILE is now a model with such a track record of success that it's being copied elsewhere in the nation," said Sue Borden, assistant director of the program. "It's a tribute to Mimi's vision and her real understanding of the special obstacles facing minority youth."

Some of the original SMILE students, who began their first activities in K-12 programs ranging from Chiloquin to Warm Springs and Ontario, Ore., are now attending OSU or other universities and even volunteering to help other young students as mentors, Borden said.

In this program, talented young students get their first glimpse of a college campus, learn about the opportunities of higher education, and are exposed to role models to help fuel their ambitions.

Their years of weekly science activities - "Challenge Weekends," "Outdoor Science Adventures," and other programs - are paying off with a near 100 percent high school graduation rate and amazingly high percentage of students who go on to attend college.

SMILE "has given disadvantaged minority students in our community a vision of what is possible," said a principal at Woodburn High School.

Orzech joined the OSU faculty 31 years ago as an instructor in the Department of History.

In other roles she has also served as director of the OSU Educational Opportunities Program, which is designed to recruit and retain minority, disadvantaged and disabled students who have traditionally been denied equal access to higher education, and as assistant vice president for academic affairs.

Orzech also helped obtain funding for the College Assistance Migrant Program, or CAMP, which helps the children of migrant families at OSU; the Health Careers Opportunity Program; Upward Bound; and the Special Services Project. She received a "Women of Achievement Award" for furthering the status of women and minorities.

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Sue Borden, 541-737-2388