First-generation college graduate, Jordan Ortman earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology in May 2021 from Old Dominion University. Initially, he didn’t know if college was right for him. However, he persevered and became a trainee in the Monarchs Maximizing Access to Research Careers (M-MARC) now known as Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE). He is on the path to pursuing a doctorate degree and Ortman credits his upward path to success to all of the faculty and mentors in the U-RISE program and the Department of Psychology at ODU.  

Ortman grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado and is the oldest of seven children. “I wasn't sure if I was really cut out for college,” said Ortman. “And coming from a family who has zero college graduates, it was like I didn't even know where to start.”

He decided to start at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado, and he did well his first year. However, his family moved to Virginia upon completing his first year. He was able to transfer to Tidewater Community College and finished his last two semesters in Virginia Beach.

“I told myself that if I'm going to go into all this debt to pay for school then I'm going to put the work into it,” said Ortman. “I ended up having a couple of good semesters at TCC and for the first time ever in my life, I had a 4.0 GPA.”

Proud of his accomplishments, he made another decision about which university to attend. “I had heard great things about ODU, and it offered exceptional value for the cost of attending college essentially,” said Ortman.

Unsure about how to navigate higher education, he was apprehensive at first. “Initially, college was so scary because it was something completely new and different and I just felt like I didn't really have any guidance,” said Ortman. “But one of my Psychology professors suggested that I reach out to the M-MARC (now called U-RISE) program because they help individuals who might face challenges in pursuing a research career by supporting them early in their path.” 

After Ortman met with Chemistry Professor and M-MARC Co-Principal Investigator Alvin Holder, Ph.D., “it was immediately apparent to me that he truly had the best intentions in mind for his students. He really wanted us to succeed,” said Ortman. Ortman explained the fact that he was a first-generation student with limited means. He was accepted as a trainee in the second cohort of the program. Unsure of how to get involved in research, Holder and the M-MARC program became the guiding force to Ortman’s involvement in psychology research.    

As an M-MARC trainee, Ortman rotated through several labs in ODU’s Department of Psychology. While feeling out different labs, Ortman had a chance to participate in Assistant Professor Abby Braitman’s Alcohol Studies lab. This led him to start working on research projects, and his interest in research took off. While working in Braitman’s Lab, Ortman also had the opportunity to do research work at the Eastern Virginia Medical School.

He was getting his footing under him in doing undergraduate research but then the COVID-19 global pandemic hit. “When Covid first came around everything went virtual and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but I hated it,” said Ortman. “I really think that face-to-face interactions are more meaningful.” But he persevered and continued doing research despite of the social distancing guidelines surrounding COVID-19.

Even his summer undergraduate research experience was altered in 2020. “The intentions were that we were supposed spend the summer at another university, work in another lab, and have the final product be a research poster but that ended up being virtual for me,” said Ortman. “My summer research experience was with Brandeis University where I worked in Dr. Hannah Snyder's lab who was connected with the M-MARC program and that was a really awesome experience as well,” said Ortman. Due to the nature of psychological research, Ortman was able to stay on task and do survey research despite the COVID-19 restrictions. 

At the start of his second year, he returned to ODU (virtually) but fully involved in poster presentations and remote conferences as part of M-MARC. Also, he was taking part in a plethora of professional development opportunities. “I was not as professional as I needed to be, and I wasn't refined as I should have been,” said Ortman. “I think the M-MARC program helped me take baby steps to incrementally build up to where I needed to be, and that was like what was really important for me.”   

After graduating from ODU in the fall of 2021, Ortman applied to a clinical psychology doctoral program, and he applied to ODU’s Master of Psychology program. “I did get accepted into the master’s program at ODU, but the program was expensive,” said Ortman. However, he did not get into a clinical psychology Ph.D. program. “It's more competitive than medical school, and they have about a two percent acceptance rate,” said Ortman. However, he did not give up on pursing research in the field of psychology.

“But after completing ODU and everything with M-MARC, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything else because it has been invaluable,” said Orman. “I really fell in love with the idea of doing psychological research.” That love blossomed into a pathway for him to carve out a career in the field.

With the help of Holder, Ortman did a post-baccalaureate at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio for a year and worked for a second year there. Ortman knew he was ready to reapply to a doctoral program after gaining more research experience.

The second time around, Ortman applied and was accepted into a doctoral program. In the spring of 2024, he began a doctoral degree at the University of Central Florida in their Ph.D. program in Psychology.

“I really don't think I would be where I am today without it (M-MARC),” said Ortman. “It really did have an extremely significant impact on my trajectory through academia, which ultimately ended up with me being in the Ph.D. program that I'm currently in. 

Ortman is thankful for everyone in the M-MARC program who set the foundation for him to take part in research experiences. “Having the M-MARC program pair me with a great mentor and in a great lab was essential,” said Ortman.

This is his advice to Monarchs interested in working in the current U-RISE program: “It's an intensive program, so it's not for the faint of heart. If you're thinking of going down this career path, just know that you're going to be working hard. It's going to be time consuming but it's also going to be very fulfilling. So, if there is something inside you that has an interest in research and you want to make a meaningful impact on the world, but you're just not sure where to start, then the M-MARC program (now U-RISE) is the perfect solution.”

To all of his mentors and those who helped him at ODU, Ortman has this to say: “I don't know how to thank them enough for investing their time and their resources into me. It was the first time I experienced someone recognizing my potential and investing the time and resources to help me achieve it. It's valuable to individuals who struggle to see a way forward in academia.”

Looking back Ortman is proud of where he started and where he is on his journey. Also, he set the example for his siblings as the oldest. He has two sisters who are now in college attending ODU. “I want to be able to help other people and I really enjoy paying it forward. I really enjoyed ODU, and I'm glad it's where I ended up because I wouldn’t trade graduating from there for anything!"