by Samantha Mendoza
Growing up, Bianca Ramos loved playing with stuffed animals. Through her education at St. Mary’s University, Ramos has begun turning her childhood fascination with cuddly stuffed creatures into a research career with a real-world impact on wildlife populations.
Originally from Juarez, Mexico, Ramos joined the St. Mary’s community, eager to explore her passion for sharing the wonders of the natural world with others. A double major in English and Environmental Science, she joined the Maximizing Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U*STAR) Program, which supports students from underrepresented backgrounds pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering or math.
“I’ve come to appreciate that research is a labor of passion,” Ramos said of the program. “I’ve learned that, as a researcher, if you care about something, you’re willing to put the hours, time and effort into your work.”
The MARC U*STAR program has allowed Ramos to present research on different types of desert soils at a national biomedical conference for minority students. During the Spring 2023 semester, the program also enabled the senior to research the genetic link between the coyote and red wolf populations with Melissa Karlin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Science at St. Mary’s.
Bianca Ramos, Environmental Science and English major
“I’ve come to appreciate that research is a labor of passion. I’ve learned that, as a researcher, if you care about something, you’re willing to put the hours, time and effort into your work.”
Red wolves are extinct in the wild and only exist in a non-essential experimental population in North Carolina after being removed from their historic range, which included Texas. By analyzing the genetic data of canids in Texas, Ramos and Karlin can better understand if red wolf DNA still exists in this population and learn more about their diet.
“Red wolves deserve to be protected,” Ramos said. “They play an important role in the ecosystem. This project can better understand their current status in the wild to, ultimately, extend protections to them.”
Ramos spent a semester analyzing scat samples in the lab with Karlin to extract and analyze their DNA. She’ll soon be visiting 11 research sites and collecting samples herself.
“Her work ethic is impeccable,” Karlin said. “She has always been the top-performing student in every class of mine. She is always eager to learn new skills.”
Outside of her research, Ramos is also the Vice President of the Women’s Affairs Council registered student organization. She coordinates service projects and educates students on issues affecting women and marginalized populations.
While aware of a lack of female representation in research and STEM fields, Ramos said she hopes her work will help pave the way for other Latinas pursuing research careers.
“I hope that one day I can inspire other women to follow in my footsteps,” she said. “I want to show women, ‘You can do it!’ There’s potential in all of us, and you can accomplish anything you want.”
Ramos will be one of a handful of students joining Karlin on a study-abroad trip to the United Kingdom later in 2023 to learn about environmental research and conservation-related issues abroad. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife conservation or ecology.
“How could I resist wanting to learn more about animals?” Ramos said.