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Graduate Introduces Chess Program to Schools in Colombian Hometown

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 6, 2012 – Chess player and December 2011 graduate of The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College Nadya Ortiz went to the far regions of the Russian Federation to become a Woman Grandmaster in Chess. Ortiz and her fellow Colombian chess team members joined nearly 1,400 players from around the world to attend the 2010 World Chess Olympiad held in Khanty-Mansiysk, east northeast of Moscow in Siberia.

Ortiz considers her move against one of the students participating in the simultaneous chess exhibition in Ibagué, Colombia

“It was an adventure, really such a different place for all of us,” Ortiz said. “We stayed in a hotel that was built just for the Chess Olympiad. Most importantly, throughout the tournament, I was in constant contact via Internet with my coach, International Grandmaster Ronen Har-Zvi. He was in Brownsville supporting me in the technical preparation of each game, and he gave me psychological support. It really made a difference, and I came home a Woman Grandmaster!”

Ortiz came to Brownsville from her hometown of Ibagué, Colombia, on a chess scholarship in 2007 after she was recruited by Chess Program Director Russell Harwood.

“Nadya has been very special to our chess program,” Harwood said. “In addition to being our first Woman Grandmaster, she is one of the best students and most committed team members we have ever had.”

Having received her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, graduating summa cum laude with a 3.9 grade point average, Ortiz has started graduate studies at UTB, hoping to eventually pursue a career in information security.

“UTB changed my life; all my life I will be grateful to UTB,” Ortiz said. “I have received amazing support from teammates and especially from Rusty and Dr. Hilda Silva. Coach Ronen’s guidance has been so valuable to my development, and I feel being here allowed me to achieve my last title as Woman Grandmaster.”

Ortiz said she comes from a modest home where her parents placed importance on education for her and her younger brother. Her father, Jorge Humber Ortiz, supported the family as a taxi driver. Fifteen years ago he became a high school math instructor, and more recently, became Ortiz’ partner in her efforts to introduce chess to the school children of Ibagué.

“My dad introduced me to the wonderful world of chess,” Ortiz said. “We both know the many advantages of learning to play chess and want to create opportunities for children to learn.”

Ortiz said there are many benefits to learning chess, including the promotion of cognitive abilities such as attentiveness, memory, concentration and language. Chess players develop time management skills, problem-solving techniques and learn good sportsmanship.

Nadya Ortiz

Along with her father’s help and support, Ortiz developed a chess curriculum for the Ibagué school system. She presented her project to the city’s mayor in May 2011, and by August the program was underway in 32 out of the city’s 55 schools. Open to all ages, a total of 800 students participated in the voluntary program.

Lasting throughout the fall 2011 semester, the successful pilot project consisted of seven lessons following a workbook designed by Nadya and her father. The grand finale of the project was a simultaneous chess exhibition in the city’s main park, where the top 350 student players matched wits with 12 of Ortiz’s professional and semi-professional chess friends and colleagues.

“That was such a wonderful day at the park,” Ortiz said. “Local businesses donated prizes, which made it even more exciting for the kids. I was really impressed with how well our young students played.”

While she was home over Christmas vacation, Ortiz visited 10 schools and met with instructors to discuss the success of last fall’s chess program. The feedback, she said, has been very positive. Teachers were able to point to cases where students’ participation in the chess program has been beneficial in helping them stay more focused in the classroom, especially in math studies. Ortiz’ father continues to meet with teachers to gain feedback as they plan for fall 2012.

“I met with the new mayor in Ibagué over the holidays,” Ortiz said. “We discussed the success of last semester, and he wants me to present the program concept for it to begin again this fall. Then I want to start working to create a non-profit foundation for this program to become self-supporting so it will become a strong part of the voluntary school curriculum.”

Ortiz is concentrating on her graduate studies and continues coaching a 10-year-old elementary student who last spring won the All-Girls National Tournament in her age group. In addition, she is working with Harwood and her female teammates to establish a UTB chess initiative in Brownsville that will instruct and mentor young female chess players.

“I have expressed to Dr. García how grateful I am for all that UTB has done for me,” Ortiz said about Dr. Juliet V. García, President of the UTB and TSC partnership. “I really admire Dr. García; she is such a good role model, and I hope to follow her example and open doors of opportunity for other girls.”

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