Of all the challenges Brenda Ortiz encountered upon her arrival in the United States a decade ago, it was the American views on lunch that she found most flustering.

In her native Colombia, lunch, typically characterized by bountiful helpings of rice, meat, vegetables and soups, is the principal meal. She admits never becoming fully acclimated to the paltry American mid-day fare of sandwiches and salads.

As with everything else, though, Ortiz has adapted. That is what she does — what she’s always done.

Her unusually adept command of English perhaps affords the clearest insight into this finely-honed skill.

A decade ago, English language mastery was the biggest obstacle standing between her and her long-term goal of completing a doctorate in agricultural engineering at an American university.

“I knew that if I was coming to the United States to pursue a Ph.D., I would have to understand everything and communicate effectively,” recalls Ortiz, who now works as an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agronomist and is an assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy and Soils at Auburn University.

She enrolled in one of the nation’s premiere immersion programs at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

“I chose Middle America because I wanted to be exposed to a clear American accent but, I also wanted to be as far removed as possible from Latin American culture.

“Otherwise, I feared I wouldn’t master English as quickly.”

This marked the first time she had ever left Colombia, but she never looked back and she was determined to leave nothing to chance.

Ortiz’s ability to adapt quickly is a skill born of curiosity, reflected in what she readily concedes is an all-consuming passion for scientific investigation and discovery. For as long as she can remember, Ortiz has dealt with an almost insatiable curiosity about how the world works, particularly as it relates to nature.

This is what drives her and brought her to the United States to pursue her doctorate.

Growing up in Cali, a large west Colombian city nestled in a fertile valley bracketed by two mountain ranges, one could hardly ignore the region’s awesome natural splendor or the thriving and highly diversified farming sector that had sprung out of its rich soils.