Virus researcher receives scholarship in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Advancing Education Scholarship Award Gaby Ramirez
Gabriela Ramirez

Read a Spanish version of this article.

An equity perspective motivates Gabriela Ramirez to pursue her research based out of Rushika Perera’s lab in the Center for Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases.

“As a Ph.D. student at CSU, my current research is focused on dengue hemorrhagic fever, a disease that significantly impacts low-to-middle income countries,” said Ramirez. “I am focusing on investigating how to reduce viral transmission by mosquitoes through identifying choke points in metabolic pathways that will trap the virus in the mosquito and eliminate it.”

Advancing Education Scholarship

In April, Ramirez received the 2022-23 Advancing Education Scholarship in honor of the legacy and memory of Martin Luther King Jr. This scholarship provides a graduate student with financial support for one academic year. The awardee is selected by a committee managed by the CSU Graduate School’s Graduate Center for Inclusive Mentoring.

She received the award in recognition of outstanding achievement in promoting equities for underrepresented populations. Ramirez’s commitment to impactful research was evident even before she began graduate school. She quickly responded during the pandemic, spending her time researching COVID in the Perera lab. Ramirez continues to demonstrate this same concern for others in her doctoral research and outreach pursuits.

“Her clearly unselfish commitment to society during this pandemic warrants significant recognition,” said Perera.

Becoming a confident and independent scientist

“I am aware of the health and financial burdens Latin Americans encounter due to viral diseases. That led to my interest in the field of microbiology where I could study neglected tropical diseases with a focus on host-pathogen interactions, molecular biology, cellular metabolism, and clinical treatments,” said Ramirez. “Most of the countries affected by these diseases do not have the medical infrastructure to promptly respond and provide treatment to patients because we, the scientific community, are lacking a full understanding of these diseases at a molecular level.”

After a year of lab rotations in the Cell and Molecular Biology program, Ramirez chose to return to the Perera Lab to conduct her doctoral research. Ramirez is now two years into her doctoral degree program.

“Dr. Perera’s lab allowed me to become a more confident and independent scientist,” said Ramirez. “The diversity of women scientists within her lab showed me what a scientist could look like — and that, as a woman of color — I belonged.”

Developing an identity as a mentor

Transversely, Perera says that Ramirez contributes significantly to the atmosphere in the research lab.

“During her entire tenure in my laboratory, she has mentored visiting scientists, high school students, undergraduate students, and graduate students,” said Perera. “She has been an incredible role model, mentor and team player and is respectful, collegial and appreciative of the diversity around her.”

Ramirez takes her responsibility as a mentor seriously.

“I am in a place of power, meaning that through my work I can inspire future generations. It is my goal to further develop that identity as a mentor,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez also works to inspire future generations by participating in Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives. Her work includes presenting on panels, engaging in local and international conferences, and volunteering as a judge for the annual Multicultural Undergraduate Research and Leadership Symposium.

“I can think of no one more deserving than Gabriela for the Advancing Education Scholarship. She embodies the principles and tenets of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in her continuous conviction to help her community as she climbs the ladder to academic success,” said Perera. “She will be a force to be dealt with in the future towards enabling her communities to dream beyond what they might have envisioned for their limits of success. She will help them break through the barriers.”