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Graduates in the Spotlight : 2019 Graduates in the Spotlight

Layra Caridad Valdes Ramirez

image of Layra Caridad Valdes RamirezHOMETOWN: Originally from Cuba; now resides in Danbury

MAJOR: Biochemistry, Pre-Dental Pathway

MINOR: Biology

WCSU DEGREE: Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, Biochemistry, ACS Approved

ACTIVITIES: Pre-Health Peer Mentoring Program, pre-dental track mentor since 2018; Collegiate Health Service Corps (CHSC) 2015-present, vice-president and temporary treasurer, 2019-present, secretary, 2017-18;  National Honor Society of Leadership and Success since 2016; volunteer at WRD, 2016; volunteer at Jane Goodall Permaculture Garden since 2015; Chemistry Club member since 2015; Biology Club member, 2015-16; SNMA-MAPS member since 2018; Minorities in Medicine, 2017-present, member 2017, treasurer 2017-18, president, since 2018; “Climate change and human civilization” lecture series, fall 2018; Tick-awareness program at summer camps, summer 2017; HAVEN Free Clinic, Spanish Language Interpreter, 2016; Danbury High School outreach program, since 2016; organized two enrichment programs for ELP students, 2016-present; teaching assistant for Biochemistry since 2018; teaching assistant for Organic Chemistry, fall 2018 semester, teaching assistant for Biology department since 2016, Extended Learning Program associate at Danbury Public Schools since 2013

INTERNSHIPS: Intern at Tooth Fairy Dentistry With Dr. Suho Lee, 2019; intern at White Street Smiles with Dr. Paiva-Borduas, Dr. Hindin and Dr. Thomas Valluzzo; research assistant for the Backyward Integrated Tick Management Study, summer 2017; Yale University School of Medicine, Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, summer 2016

HONORS AND AWARDS: Dean’s list fall 2015-present (every semester); 3.94 GPA; Henry Barnard Distinguished Student Award, 2019; ACS Outstanding Graduating Senior, 2019; ACS Division of Physical Chemistry Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry, 2019; Dean’s Circle 2017; Boehringer Ingelheim scholarship, 2018; EAS analytical chemistry award, 2018; Polyed outstanding achievement organic chemistry award, 2018; WCSU Alumni Scholarship, 2018; Honors Program, fall 2015-present; The Latino and Puerto Rican Commission of Affairs and the State of Connecticut Office of the Treasurer Promesa Youth Scholar Award, 2015

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Layra Caridad Valdes Ramirez initially learned about WCSU while taking advanced placement classes in high school. “The first time I visited the campus, I was a high schooler who barely knew how to speak English,” she says. “I feared not fitting in this higher education environment. All my worries disappeared when I met the professors from the biology and chemistry departments. They were approachable and easy to talk to, which was very different from the other colleges I had visited. From that day on, WCSU became my second home.”

Ramirez says the approachability factor was not the only reason she chose WCSU. “I knew I had to stay near Danbury because my mom was struggling financially. I needed to find a school that was both affordable and close to home.” Her parents also were a factor when Ramirez selected a major. “I decided to follow in my mother and father’s footsteps and become a chemistry major. I chose biochemistry (ACS approved) because this major is closely related to the dental field.”

During her freshman year, Ramirez took a biology class taught by Dr. Mitch Wagener. “He became my mentor since then,” she says. “Dr. Wagener is accomplished and successful, and students and faculty respect him. He has won multiple teaching awards as well as university involvement awards. Yet, he is the most humble person I have ever met, and that’s who I aspire to be in the dental field. I want to be accomplished and successful, but I also want to stay humble. Dr. Wagener is the kind of person who does not brag about his accomplishments. Instead, he tells you what he did to get there. He gives support and guidance so you can be successful too. He has inspired me to help as many people as I can on my road to success.” Ramirez also received guidance from a fellow student a few years ahead of her, Evelin Garcia. “She actually helped me with the application process,” Ramirez says. “She read my personal statement and gave me some feedback. She inspired me, and when she got the Barnard Award two years ago, I was super happy for her. Instead of making the moment about herself, Evelin, being the great human she is, told me to make sure I applied in my senior year because she knew I could get it, too. Evelin is the main reason I got this award. We have similar backgrounds and she gave me all the help and resources she needed when she was applying. I greatly admire her.”

Asked what she will remember most about her WCSU experience, Ramirez says, “I am passionate about research, and the biochemistry department at WCSU has excellent research opportunities. My research projects are my most memorable experience at WCSU. As a sophomore, I became part of Dr. Helena Prieto’s research group and took on a project focused on the Characterization of the Folate Pathway in Malaria. After my experience in the Backyard Integrated Tick Management (ITM) Study, I became interested in the phenotypic similarities of Babesia microti (babesiosis) with Plasmodium falciparum (malaria). These two parasites are not closely related taxonomically, yet they look the same under the microscope. With the support of Dr. Prieto and Dr. Connally, I created a research project that plans to build a cDNA library for Babesia microti, allowing us to investigate any proteins of the parasite. After the creation of this genomic library, we expect to study the cytochrome C of Babesia Microti and compare these results to those of Plasmodium falciparum.”

After graduation, Ramirez says, “Dentistry has always been my passion. When I was six years old, I met Dr. Gladia Toledo, who became my mentor and made me fall in love with dentistry. Her passion for the profession, along with all the hardships she had to overcome daily, inspired me. As a dentist, I want to advocate for affordable dental care. I would like to be the change that I want to see in the world and to give as many people as I can a healthy smile.” She plans to pursue a DDM in dentistry and research next fall, and will spend this summer volunteering in a dental office in Cuba.

Her advice to new students entering WCSU is: “For freshmen, I strongly recommend getting involved in clubs and student organizations. They are an exceptional opportunity to network with other students and broaden your community. Furthermore, they will help you develop leadership skills that can later be used in the professional world. Be mindful of your time; good time management skills are key to being successful. Also, follow your passion, if you are doing something you like, your college experience will be much more enjoyable. Last but not least, get to know the faculty at WCSU, professors are a source of knowledge and guidance. Make sure you take advantage of the small class sizes and create long-lasting relationships with your professors.”