Things worked out 'for the best' for College of Education graduate

Jim Carlson
June 25, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A College of Education initiative that created a pipeline to Penn State will enable a recent graduate to come full circle and start to teach where not long ago she was a student.

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College of Education graduate Maribel Ramos will take her elementary and early childhood education degree back to Philadelphia to become a full-time teacher where she attended high school.

IMAGE: Submitted

Maribel Ramos, a December 2019 Penn State graduate from Philadelphia, attended Esperanza Academy, a charter school in North Philadelphia, and in 2013 had the opportunity to enroll in the College’s Summer College Opportunity Program in Education (S.C.O.P.E.). That helped lead to a Bunton Waller Scholarship from Penn State, which led to a degree in in elementary and early childhood education (with a minor in special education), which led to upcoming, full-time fall employment at the school she once attended.

In between were rigorous academics, a host of extracurricular activities, including being named Ms. Latina Penn State, and completing her student teaching responsibilities. And all while trying to stay in control of a neurological disorder.

Ramos enjoyed the academic-oriented S.C.O.P.E. program and said she always wanted to be a teacher, but didn’t think attending Penn State was financially attainable. In fact, in addition to applying to Penn State she also applied to another college just outside of Philadelphia. A 2015 telephone call quickly altered that reality.

“I remember after school I received a call from Gary Abdullah, who worked in the Office of Multicultural Programs (now the Office of Education and Social Equity) at the time,” Ramos said. “And all he said to me was, ‘Hi, Maribel, I hope you remember me from S.C.O.P.E. two years ago. I wanted to tell you to go check your email, and have a great day.’ And that's all he said to me.”

That prompted a rush from the Esperanza Academy science wing to its computer lab where she could access the intriguing email. “I’m reading the email and as I was reading it, I was like ‘I don't think I'm understanding this right. Like is this true? Are they offering me a full ride and then also financial help so that I can buy my books?’” she said.

“And I had my best friend read the email and had another teacher read the email just to verify it's true. Maria (Schmidt, assistant dean in the College of Education's Office of Education and Social Equity), along with Gary, they did their job of helping students like me make college seem like something that is able to be done without having to worry about money. If it hadn't been for that great support from the very beginning, I don't think I could have made it through my four years and be where I am today,” Ramos said.

Schmidt said Ramos's educational trajectory serves as an example of the impact of pipeline programs.

"Programs such as S.C.O.P.E. contribute and play a substantial role in creating a high-quality K-16 continuum that leads students to a college degree. Pipeline programs validate students as learners and offer the opportunity to experience and transition to college in a supported environment while allowing students to take ownership of their learning," Schmidt said.

Ramos made the most of her collegiate years. In no particular order, she implemented a pen pal program between Penn State students and students at her Esperanza Academy alma mater to establish academic connections at a young age; she completed her student teaching responsibilities at Spring Creek Elementary School in the State College Area School District; and she was a member of the Latino Caucus on the University Park campus.

“It's very hard to be able to connect or find someone that is like you or has a similar cultural background as you,” Ramos said. “Latino Caucus provided that space for me, allowing me to make connections with students who were from other Latin American countries. Just sharing our similar experiences of life, whether it be the music you listen to, different types of things that made you feel uncomfortable within the classroom or just anything that there was some type of connection.”

That was paramount in the decision Ramos made to relate to future students. "I used to go to a private Catholic school and mostly all the people there did not look like me,” she said.

“It was school and it was fine and everything was OK, but once I got to Esperanza, the importance of representation within the school setting made me realize how important it was. There were different teachers who looked like me and had similar cultural backgrounds as me and there was a teacher who goes by Miss Ramos there. Just seeing that that there are Hispanic professionals in teaching environments, it made it much more doable to go into higher education and then continue to follow my goals.”

Those goals crystallized during her student teaching responsibilities. “That was where I was able to see all the hard work that I had put into writing papers actually being able to come true once I was with the students,” Ramos said. “I was able to see behind-the-scenes work of teachers getting classrooms ready and transitioning into the building, all the background stuff that students don't ever see.”

Ramos remained in State College after her fall graduation and became a lead teacher at ABC Children’s Center. 

“I worked with Maribel since her participation in S.C.O.P.E. 2013 when she was still a rising high school junior. During her college years, I witnessed Maribel’s disposition to look at obstacles as learning opportunities and her drive to succeed against all odds,” Schmidt said about Ramos. “As with many students from underserved and minoritized communities, Maribel had to overcome countless socio-economic and educational disparities. Yet, she showed a strong sense of purpose and commitment leading to her graduation in December 2019.”

Ramos’s collegiate accomplishments, though many, were at times tempered by seizures caused by generalized tonic-clonic epilepsy, something she controls — at least to an extent.

“The main precaution for me is making sure that I get enough sleep, a full eight hours, and I'm always taking my medicine on time. Sometimes that just gets overwhelming and I tend to forget. Just keeping on that cycle can really help,” Ramos said. “For me, the seizures are the worst because even though they only last five minutes, they ruin my full, entire day, and they ruin the day of the people who I work with … I'm not capable enough to work and my brain is very tired. I don't feel well; it’s a lot for me to function.”

Ramos cited a lot of barriers in her life but she’s been able to navigate through them. Her goal now is to help improve the days/weeks/months/lives of students in their formative years.

“When I knew that I wanted to be a teacher, I always said I wanted to go back to my community and work as a teacher in a way to pay it forward,” Ramos said. “I feel that I was very blessed in the sense that my parents were always there helping me with homework or enrolling me in after-school programs that would help with homework. Now that I look back at younger students, not everybody has that privilege of having that support. I want to go back into those communities that are underfunded.

“Especially in the Hispanic community, representation is so important," she added. "Once we see professionals in higher education in the workforce that go beyond simple jobs, jobs that require education and require hard work, I feel like that would motivate our students and put them in the mindset of education.”

And, possibly, with Penn State on their minds.

“Yes, definitely. I feel like that the younger that they are in learning higher education options, the more that they'll think about it,” Ramos said. “So, whether it's simply promoting ‘Hey, We Are Penn State’ at a young age and then following along when they can apply there, or even like talking about the programs. And not even S.C.O.P.E., Penn State has other summer programs for high school students.

“Just getting them exposed that there are opportunities for them and I can help them apply and the worst they can be told is no. That's what kind of happened to me. I didn't think my financial situation would allow me to go to Penn State, but I applied just hoping for the best and it ended up working out.” 

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Last Updated September 03, 2020