Realistic Optimist who
combines her passions for Art and Science
It is hard to think of Maria Pujana and not think of philanthropy. A striking, intelligent doctor and designer she devotes a good part of her time to her passions - education, public health, diversity and the arts.
Maria wears many hats - and all of them are classy and fashionable.
Maria Pujana speaking at international event in Cleveland
Maria was born in Madrid, Spain, but spent her youth in Colombia. At the age of seventeen she returned to Madrid where she earned her medical degree from the Universidad Complutense. Eventually she moved to San Francisco and in 1992, to Cleveland.
She is both a neurologist and neurophysiologist and served as the chief resident in her field at a Veteran's Hospital in Madrid.
She is one of the Directors of the Cleveland Foundation where she is able to use her vast knowledge to help non-profit organizations do their good works. In fact, she is the first Hispanic to serve on that Board.
Maria Pujana with young sons Miro and Marco
She serves on the Board of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of the American Red Cross as the result of a very personal story. In 1936 when Spain was in the war, her maternal grandfather disappeared in the chaos of the war for six months or so. Nobody knew if he was dead or alive. Her mother was determined to find out what happened to him. She went to Madrid, to the Red Cross and told them her story. Her grandfather was found thanks to the efforts of The Red Cross.
"Twice a year I would visit my mother in Madrid - and she was "always on my case" to volunteer for them [The Red Cross] and to help them in any way she could because she would always remind me that they found my grandfather."
Patsy Berkman and Maria Pujana at
Cleveland International Hall of Fame inductions
She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Cleveland Art Museum, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the cancer support group, Journey of Hope.
In addition to all of her philanthropic endeavors, she is president and designer of Marise Jewelry Designs. Her jewelry designs are displayed and sold at Saks Fifth Avenue throughput the country and the world.
Her jewelry is all made by hand and uses only the finest and most exquisite natural minerals and gemstones. Her stunning collection has been used to accessorize fashion shows throughout Europe.
Gia Hoa Ryan holds a piece of jewelry that Maria Pujana donated for auction for the International Services Center
Even her jewelry designs have a philanthropic component. Maria often creates and donates special pieces so that the organizations she supports can use them to attract donations.
One such offering was in 2000 when she donated a piece of her jewelry to "Casa del niño". The goal of this organization was to assist orphaned and abandoned children in the Dominican Republic. At the fundraiser in Washington DC, Maria was able to donate the piece to the organization's founder, Oscar de la Renta, who was quite taken with the beauty and artistry,
For Maria there is no dichotomy between science and art. In fact she says "The area of the brain that is used for mathematics is also the area of the brain used for art."
Maria Pujana with visiting Cuban artists at the
Cleveland Institute of Art - November 2011
Adapting to Cleveland was not difficult for Maria. She says she immediately felt part of the entire community and the city. "I assimilated very well and felt welcome from the beginning."
Philanthropy and volunteerism beckoned to her and she quickly answered the call. She was able to enter into roles which had previously not been filled by a Hispanic.
"I bring my culture with me. I am very proud of my origin and what I bring ...It is not that I have been deculturized."
Maria Pujanna with sons Miro Grgurevic (left), Marco Grgurevic (right)and grandson Marco Antonio Grgurevic Valencia
She likes to work with people. "My mother was very artistic as was my father. He was an engineer, creating machines for his industry. I wanted to become an artist in the very beginning."
"I grew up in science and math and had the fashion inclination of my mother, even though I was not trained in that." She adds that she actually did take some drawing and painting classes while she was in medical school because she really loves art, music, dancing, art, acting, and theater - all of the arts. Her father told her he could not see her working with machines; he knew she needed to be around people. "He was absolutely correct."
Jewelry designed by Maria Pujana
Maria at home with some of her jewelry designs
She also benefited from her father's advanced way of thinking. Maria describes him as "Ahead of his time. He was a very pro-female man... who did not think a woman should be held back."
He told Maria she was a care-giver and therefore medicine would be a good choice for her. In the Chinese culture medicine is listed among the arts and this allowed her to combine her passions of science, math and art. It was the perfect blend.
Maria Pujana speaking at Cinco de Mayo event in Cleveland City Hall
Maria teaches at Case Western Reserve University in a pioneer program that is geared toward doctors and professionals. The class focuses on the Hispanic and Latino population and their inclusion in the medical system and process. She thinks good communication between doctor and patient is vital and tries to emphasize this in her classes.
Cinco de Mayo in Cleveland City Hall
She believes strongly in the need for partnerships and alliances, rather than trying to do everything herself. "Partnerships and alliances", she says "allow us to get the best of everyone. The hardest thing for us as human beings is to put aside ego. Ego must be out the window. There is no place for it."
Her daily mantra is "Without passion, you don't get anywhere". She accepts nothing but 100% from herself and those she is working with. "You must be passionate to succeed and if you are passionate you do not want to give less than your best."
Maria Pujana with husband Hugo Urizar and grandson Marquito
and new arrival granddaughter Marisé
Maria is married to Hugo Urizar, the President of Advanced Translation Services. Together they share an exciting, eventful life. She has two sons Miro Grgurevic and Marco Grgurevic and two grandchildren. She also has four birds and a cat who live in harmony with each other.
Maria Pujana with cat 'Micho'
Maria with dog 'Tupac'
Maria does not feel that being Hispanic or a woman has held her back in any way. She was raised by parents that would never have accepted an excuse like gender or heritage to hold her back. Her parents were her heroes. "We were very close. They taught me everything through their examples."
For example, her father created a health care system for his workers at his factory in Columbia. This was at a time when this was unheard of - and he did it voluntarily. "He always told me education, health and housing are necessities. You have to make sure people have these things."
Maria Pujana with Parma Mayor Dean DePiero and others at a 'Hillary Clinton Campaign for President' stop in Parma
Maria loves to sing - she has a mezzo soprano voice, although until recently she has not done anything about that. She is now working with a voice coach. She also loves to dance.
She is not a fan of flying - she prefers to have her feet on the ground. However, she does not let her fear keep her from going where she wants to go and doing what she wants to do.
Maria outside Saks Fifth Avenue store in Florida
Maria is saddened by the current trend of young girls "dumbing down" and avoiding things like math and science, but at the same time maintains her optimism because she believes so strongly in mentorship and opportunities. "We must approach kids, regardless of gender, with the very best. Poverty has nothing to do with the brain."
Maria Pujana at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York
"Not every kid will be successful in academics, but you want to make sure the opportunity is there for the ones who want it. There is room for everyone: barbers, mechanics, engineers, scientists - everyone. We would not want a whole world of scientists or artists any more than we would want a whole world of anything."
Maria and husband Hugo with Councilman Matt Zone
She also sees art having a major role in the academic future of children. "Art has been identified by principle that it will incline a student to remain in high school."
She calls herself a "Realistic Optimist. I recognize that I have a lot of limitations, but I am a very positive person and I try to use that positivity to achieve and accomplish my goals."
Marise Jewelry at St Elias Festival in Cleveland September 2012
This is a woman who has a lot to be proud of, but she walks her talk and leaves her ego at the door. She is a woman whose ideas and dreams should not be ignored. She is not to be taken lightly.
She will succeed in anything she sets her mind to and invites the rest of us to join her in the journey. How foolish we would be if we didn't hop on board.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson
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