When it comes to the news section here at The Triangle, the goal is to highlight news surrounding the Drexel University community and its surroundings, including successes and accomplishments of the students.
The Triangle focuses on current events with current students, and sometimes we are able to write with objective fondness about former Drexel Dragons making waves in their respective fields as alumni. However, this is a rare opportunity in which The Triangle is interviewing an incoming Drexel student who is making a difference in her world and being recognized for it.
This rare instance is Isabel De Ramos, a Villanova graduate set to be an incoming Drexel Dragon at the Dornsife School of Public Health to study epidemiology this fall.
But what has De Ramos done, you may ask? Well, she was one of the four winners of the Sallie Mae “Funded Futures” contest. The contest recognizes a winner from each of the four categories: high school, college, graduate school and medical school.
De Ramos won the undergraduate college student award, and, along with the prestigious recognition of her efforts, she was awarded $25,000 that will go towards her future.
According to an email from Whitney Webster — The Triangle’s contact from Hill+Knowlton Strategies — the “Funded Futures” applicants are judged on their “academic and personal accomplishments, experiences facing adversity, and how they aspire to make an impact in the future.”
De Ramos’ accomplishments come from not only excelling in a STEM field as a woman but also being a daughter of two Filipino immigrants and representing the first-generation student population. She is also a Philly native, growing up in the Olney neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia before her family recently moved to Willow Grove.
When asked why she chose Drexel, De Ramos said it was a two-step process: “When looking for grad school I knew I wanted to be close to home… and that meant all Philly schools were open. When looking into Epidemiology at Drexel, I visited the Dornsife School of Public Health — ironically a week before the lockdown — and I was blown away by how close-knit the Dornsife community was.”
De Ramos is excited to be in the city proper for grad school, and, working in a field such as epidemiology, she wants to be able to research and tackle one of Philadelphia’s biggest problems from up close — the City of Brotherly Love’s HIV and AIDS rates.
De Ramos explained that Philadelphia’s HIV infection rate is five times higher than the national average, and to her that is terrifying. “The issue I plan to fight is the HIV/AIDS crisis in Philly. While there is a stigma and prevalence in my home country of the Philippines, I thought to myself ‘why don’t I tackle it in my home city?’”
De Ramos hopes to tackle the many obstacles that stand in the way of Philadelphia overcoming the high infection rates of HIV in its youth and adult populations, starting with the lack of education. She hopes to focus on the stigma and lack of knowledge behind the transmission of HIV, along with getting resources to the neighborhoods that need it the most.
De Ramos described epidemiologists as “people who put together the puzzles” of social health problems. She wants to break down the misconception that there is a “catch-all” solution to this problem, and she is proud to be a Filipino-American woman doing that.
“We need diverse points of view in research,” De Ramos explained. “In terms of using my platform, it’s all about inspiring little brown girls. If this girl that looks like me sees that I can do it, then she thinks she can do it. It helps them retain those confidence levels and their STEM interest to last longer. I want to inspire that next generation.”
De Ramos shared that women make up roughly one-forth of the STEM workforce, and that is largely composed of non-minorities.
And this is why De Ramos is taking a swing for the fences, in more ways than one — not only is she pursuing a career in a male-dominated field that underrepresents women and largely omits minority women, but she is also challenging the cultural Filipino stereotype and her parents’ initial expectations of a career for her.
“I enjoy proving people wrong,” De Ramos said with pride, “My aunts ask me if I’m going to be a nurse and I tell them ‘no, I’m not’ and it is fulfilling.”
But it doesn’t just stop there. De Ramos was on “autopilot,” she explained, as it seemed her future was planned for her already. It wasn’t until college when she took a step back and looked at what she really wanted to be doing with her future.
“I come from a proud family of Filipino immigrants and my parents wanted me to go into a practical profession. It means being a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer or a disappointment. It took to the point where I had to ask myself if I was going to college for me or for my parents?”
Thanks to an impactful course on medical sociology, some helpful professors and a fantastic set of resources at Villanova University’s Center for Access Success and Achievement, De Ramos was able to make the transition to focusing on a path that would get her to epidemiology. “[CASA] was home for me. There were advisors, life coaches, extra tutoring and a lending library — it was a safe space for people with different backgrounds and upbringings.”
Little did De Ramos know, however, was that down the road the CASA office would be the connection to get her the chance to win the “Funded Futures” award. De Ramos couldn’t help but laugh as she explained. “The office sent out an email about Sallie Mae, and I woke up on a Sunday morning to the email and said ‘You know what… I’m gonna give this a try.”’
Sometimes all you need to do is keep trying and to be able to realize when to ask for help when one needs it most. The one thing De Ramos will take with her from her time at Villanova is that “asking for help is always a sign of strength, not weakness.” De Ramos is extremely grateful for the resources that Villanova had, and she honestly believes that they are underutilized by its students.
And yet, De Ramos also understands the balance that exists between work and life. After growing up playing violin, self-teaching herself the piano and singing in orchestras, her love for music has never faded. She still picks up the violin from time to time to remind herself she still can play, and she sings as a canter at her church, Our Lady Help of Christians, in Abington.
And now, as a Villanova graduate with her eyes set on the fall, the incoming Drexel Dragon is excited to get to work and to keep proving people wrong. Hopefully she can inspire more people like her to do the same.