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Though having no science background themselves, Ramón’s parents encouraged him early on to get into science. They sent him to Space Camp, where he first fell in love with astronomy.
Ramón’s interest in physics was solidified, however, by a great high school physics teacher.
“My teacher was incredibly charismatic, filling the class with crazy experiments and demonstrations,” Ramón says. “Instead of just talking at us, the class was very hands-on, always connecting the physics concepts we learned about to the physical world.”
An ambitious student, Ramón got an early start in undergraduate research, starting work on particle detectors his sophomore year at the National Superconductivity Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL). In his senior year he worked in observational astronomy, studying brightest cluster galaxies.
Ramón also participated in a number of clubs and took up multiple jobs to support his college education. This included being a Resident Assistant in dorms and serving as the head instructor for the Martial Arts Club.
“It was tough having to balance multiple jobs, school, and extracurriculars," says Ramón. "However, it was well worth it- I learned how to manage my time and be efficient in everything I do."
Eyes Wide Open
After graduating from Michigan State University with a degree in Astrophysics, Ramón continued his studies at Western Michigan University's physics graduate program.
While Ramón enjoyed his research and studies, as time went on he became increasingly aware of the lack of gender and racial diversity in his physics departments. He noticed many underlying racial and gender-based prejudices still remained as well, a situation he found troubling. Ramón himself also personally encountered instances of hostility towards his sexual and racial identity.
“[During my undergraduate years], in a typical class of 50 people, there was only around 7 females, and no people of color,” Ramón says. “The sciences, unlike the humanities…have never really taken the time to evaluate and deconstruct issues of gender, race, and sexuality. They’re assumed to be irrelevant [in these fields], and scientists often assume themselves to be void of such prejudices.”
These assumptions, Ramón believes, are what allow these prejudices to persist in the sciences. His concerns sparked discussions with Megan Grunert, a Chemistry professor at Western Michigan involved in research on the experience of women in the sciences.
These discussions solidified Ramón’s passion for social justice and his desire to change the landscape of the sciences for underrepresented groups everywhere.
Now, Ramón is a Science Education PhD student. Through a grant from the National Science Foundation's AGEP program, he travels around the country and interviews female physics graduate students on their academic experiences. He hopes to find out why women predominantly choose certain subfields of physics over others, and eventually help to close the gender gap in physics.
Ramón has also developed and teaches a course called “Race, Gender, and Science” at Western Michigan, a class looking at the issues of race and gender prejudice through the lens of science.
“Now, more than ever we need individuals of all backgrounds to enter STEM-related fields, and we don’t want to drive them away with hostility or discomfort,” Ramón says.
When he’s not working toward his PhD, Ramón is also a leader in oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). oSTEM is national organization that supports LGBTQA STEM students, helping them network and providing them with resources to successfully compete in the job market.
“At the end of the day," Ramón says, "my goal is to fight for equal treatment of others, and that fight is through my advocacy and research.”
Find a Community
Ramón recommends students find a community of peers to support them.
“Whether they’re like-minded to you or different, find a group of people to get you through, whether that's advisors or fellow students,” Ramón says.
You Are Not Alone
“If you’re facing any sort of hostility, do not face it alone,” Ramón says. “Go through your campus leaders, like an ombudsman or associate dean. They can provide help and direct you to campus resources. Whatever you do, don’t fight alone and don’t let it just slide by.”
Pursue Your Passions
Ramón has found a way to combine his love for physics and social justice. He believes it is crucial for students to also follow their passions and interests.
“It may sound cliché, but it's true- find and do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”