In a roomful of MBA students looking hesitant and perhaps a bit out of place, Samantha Ortiz jumps up when the tango instructor asks for a volunteer. While Ortiz is charged with ensuring that all 44 MBA students benefit from a well-planned residency in Buenos Aires, Argentina, demonstrating the tango is not part of her job description. But Ortiz doesn’t hesitate.
Following the impressive demonstration, the instructor says in his thick accent, “You’re a dan-cer!”
At least she used to be.
As a youngster, Ortiz, now LeBow’s assistant director of online programs, was destined for the stage. She performed in regional theater, appeared on commercials and TV soap operas and was Broadway-bound until she had a change of heart in college. Deciding on a more stable career, Ortiz eventually made her way to Drexel, where she began a stint in LeBow’s Decision Sciences department. She reported to the late Tom Hindelang, the well-loved vice dean who was serving as the interim department head.
“Dr. Hindelang and I worked in different buildings, but he made it a point to meet with me twice a week,” Ortiz says. “He never spoke about the work of the day but talked to me about my future. He encouraged me to go back to school. He was always so joyful and had a great attitude. I wanted to go to work every day with a smile on my face, just like he did. He was an inspiration.”
With encouragement and a bit of delicate prodding from Hindelang, Ortiz embarked on her master’s in higher education at Drexel. Soon after, she learned of an opportunity working with graduate online programs at LeBow. “The position was a way to put into practice what I was learning in school. The timing couldn’t have been better.”
Three years later, Ortiz continues to advise online graduate students, schedule classes and manage international residencies, one of her favorite parts of the job. This year’s trip was especially rewarding because Ortiz speaks Spanish fluently, which made navigating Buenos Aires much easier for her and her students who visited famous landmarks like Plaza de Mayo and the Tigre Delta and enjoyed business presentations at IBM; Hexacta, a software development company; Globant, an IT company among other destinations; and the Embassy. (Read more.)
While the trip had many cultural highlights and enlightening educational visits, the downside for Ortiz was seeing the economic devastation of the “Paris of South America.”
“As a first-generation Cuban American, I grew up hearing about Castro and what he did to my country,” Ortiz says, “so I can really sympathize with the Argentinians and what they are going through. Among Hispanics, Argentina was always spoken of highly. We thought of the people as sophisticated, proper, educated. So much of that has changed, but I would go back in a minute.”
Perhaps in a little while. For now, Ortiz has a new cohort to manage, not to mention that she and her husband, John, are busy with their 7-month old Sophia and the new home they’re currently decorating. As new parents, Ortiz says they don’t have much time for evenings out anymore, but when they do, she and John head to North Philadelphia for salsa dancing.
Guess who leads?