Student Spotlight: Valentina Ramirez

headshot of Valentina Ramirez
Photo courtesy of Ramirez

This week's student spotlight features a dynamic Latina student whose fervor for science and dedication to community service are truly inspiring. Her energetic personality, combined with thoughtful communication and a drive for excellence, act like a force that pulls you in.

Valentina Ramirez is a senior with a major in Neuroscience and minors in Chemistry and Global Health. The Boston native distinctly recalls the moment she chose Duke University as her home for her undergraduate life. 'I remember vividly at a college fair watching a video of Duke’s campus culture. The academics, the people, the sports, and the beautiful architecture drew me in…' Ramirez said. While the pull towards Duke University was strong and clear, deciding on a major wasn’t. Ramirez recalls that she wasn’t always sure of what she wanted to major in. She always liked science, but it’s such a vast area. Feeling lost, Ramirez missed classes in her freshman year. It was serendipitous when her advisor, Dr. Sherwood, recommended Neuroscience 101. Her fascination with the class and the brain cemented her decision to major in Neuroscience.

Given the myriad mysteries still surrounding the complexities of the brain, it's no surprise that Ramirez's insatiable curiosity gravitated her towards research. In fact, she was so determined to join a research lab in her sophomore year that she started cold emailing all the labs and projects that she found interesting after Muser didn’t work out for her. Her resilience paid off when she stumbled across the Eroglu Lab. She found her calling and has been working there since 2022. Ramirez’s current research project focuses on understanding how mitochondria affect the growth and shape of astrocytes, which are crucial support cells in the brain, in the Eroglu lab. The research suggests that the positioning of mitochondria in astrocytes is important for the health and development of the brain. These findings not only contribute to our understanding of the cellular mechanisms underlying mitochondrial dynamics as a therapeutic strategy for neurological diseases but also offer new perspectives on targeting mitochondrial dynamics as a therapeutic strategy for neurological diseases. In layman's terms, Ramirez's research and findings help us understand better how cells in the brain work by studying these tiny structures called mitochondria. Understanding how cells in the brain work could give new ideas on how one might be able to target these mitochondria to treat brain diseases in the future.

As a graduating senior, Ramirez is in the process of applying to medical school but has not ruled out the possibility of attending graduate school for an MA/PhD. Ramirez’s determination and resourcefulness extend past academic work and research. They stretch out across other aspects of her life. Ramirez has been working for the Spanish crisis line of the Durham Crisis Response Center, a Durham organization for domestic abuse. As a bilingual individual, Ramirez not only assists during times of crisis, but she also lessens the burden of a language barrier for these domestic abuse victims during the most extreme times in their lives. Ramirez finds this work incredibly rewarding. Her commitment to making a difference doesn't end there. Ramirez was also part of the team that initiated a new chapter of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition in Durham. Last semester, she and her team successfully organized a 5k event, raising enough funds to provide 100 HPV vaccines in Suriname. Currently, she holds the position of VP of Operations for the organization, continuing her impactful work in the community.

Valentina Ramirez is part of the Graduation with Distinction cohort in Spring 2024. When asked for advice to help fellow students juggle multiple priorities, she shared that it’s all about 'balance.' The importance of balancing out the coursework is crucial. Her rule of thumb was to have 2 'low-pressure' or 'fun' classes and 2 STEM classes. This is particularly important in the beginning when a lot of intro courses have a lab component, which adds more time to the schedule. Ramirez also stressed the importance of reaching out to peers in the class. She attributes her success in all the chemistry and biology classes to group support. She wants to remind the incoming Neuroscience major class to take it slow and enjoy the process. Take advantage of the time with faculty advisors. They’re there to support you and most of all, '…it’s okay to take one class pass/fail if necessary.'