“I’ve come a long way,” said CSUDH alumna Teresa Ramirez, reflecting on her college and career path. A first-generation Mexican-American born in Torrance, and raised in Compton, Ramirez was the first member of her family to pursue a college education.
Ramirez was a self-described “shy, quiet, somewhat naÃ¯ve” first-year college student. By the time she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Ramirez had developed “the confidence that I needed to be a leader, someone who can communicate without being afraid.”
Ramirez traces much of her success to being awarded a CSUDH Presidential Scholarship, the university’s premiere scholarship program, in recognition of her outstanding academic achievements in high school. Chosen as a student ambassador, Ramirez was called on to speak at a variety of events attended by a wide range of students, alumni, and administrators. “That’s how my leadership really started,” she said. “I took a lot of pride in that, because I felt like I was a true representation of what CSUDH was all about.”
“The Presidential Scholarship was truly a great help and a motivation to continue pursuing my dream of attaining a science degree,” said Ramirez. While at CSUDH, she also received the Dr. Lois W. Chi Science Scholarship. These scholarships were vital to allowing Ramirez to focus in her studies. At one point, her parents were considering selling their house to help pay for her education, so the financial support from the scholarships “was really a dream come true.”
After graduating from CSUDH, her new-found confidence led Ramirez to graduate school at Brown University, where she earned her doctoral degree in molecular pharmacology and physiology. Ramirez followed that up with a prestigious post-doctoral research fellowship at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health, where she studied ways to prevent alcoholic liver disease. Today, Ramirez is the program manager of member communities in the department of higher education at the American Physiological Society (APS), in Rockville, Maryland. The position allows her to provide resources to the community and work with trainees from various professional levels to achieve their own scientific goals. In her own time, she mentors and assists young people in pursuing their own science careers.
“I mentor students because I feel that if it wasn’t for those people who believed in me and mentored me, I wouldn’t be here,” said Ramirez. She particularly credits CSUDH Biology Professor Laura Robles with helping her discover opportunities Ramirez might not have known about otherwise. Among those was the chance to be a part of the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) program at CSUDH, which Robles was then directing. The MRBS program allows undergraduate students to pursue their interest in scientific research.
Her affiliation with the MBRS program led to Ramirez’ first experiences traveling outside California. She participated in the Leadership Alliance program at Brown University (her first exposure to the school), and spent a summer in England as part of the Minority Health International Research Training program. “I realized there was a lot out there that I could explore.”
In addition to her job with APS, Ramirez works with a variety of organizations that help students find their path. She founded the Brown University chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, and continues to help fellow young Latinas through her work on the boards of Mujeres de HACE (Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement) and Latinas Leading Tomorrow.
As if she wasn’t busy enough, Ramirez is a frequent speaker at STEM events across the country, sharing her knowledge and professional expertise while encouraging others to follow in her footsteps.
So how does she fit so many different responsibilities into her day? Ramirez laughed, “If you’re really passionate about something, you always make time for it and everything works out in the end.”