William Ramos and Julissa Villarrreal
William Ramos and Julissa Villarreal in a UTSA lab
(Photos by Mark McClendon)

Commencement Close-up: William Ramos and Julissa Villarreal hope to inspire young students

By Kris Rodriguez
Public Affairs Specialist

(Dec. 15, 2005)--Exciting times lie ahead for UTSA doctoral students Willliam Ramos and Julissa Villarreal. Not only will they receive their degrees in neuroscience this week and then start new jobs with the National Institutes on Aging in Baltimore, Md., but this summer the pair will return to San Antonio to get married.

The couple met four years ago when Bill joined Julissa in a doctoral neuroscience research program under UTSA biology professor Edwin Barea-Rodriguez.

"He opened up a lot of opportunities by allowing me to attend annual conferences and make poster presentations," said Villarreal. "I also had the chance to travel to Puerto Rico and the prestigious Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts to learn new research techniques."

Both credit Barea-Rodriguez with having a big impact on their lives with his passion to help his students succeed.

"He taught us a lot in his lab and is the reason why we are here and graduating from UTSA," said Ramos.

Villarreal, a 32-year-old Corpus Christi native, had completed her undergraduate studies at Columbia University and met Barea-Rodriguez when she applied to UTSA's doctoral program in neuroscience.

"Julissa was a committed student, which made working with her very rewarding," said Barea-Rodriguez. "She is my first graduating female Ph.D. student and set a program record for us by authoring three research papers with one submitted for publication."

While Villarreal traveled out of state to complete her education, Ramos, a 37-year-old native San Antonian, stayed closer to home graduating from the University of Texas at Austin and pursuing research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

After conducting research on the liver, kidneys and lungs, Ramos met Barea-Rodriguez and found a new area of concentration, researching proteins in the brain.

"I challenged Bill to see the brain as an organ composed of DNA, RNA and proteins and he stayed in my lab and completed a very interesting research project," said Barea-Rodriguez. "I am proud of his work and I will miss our interactions."

The couple is grateful to UTSA for providing excellent research opportunities in neuroscience and they see a bright future ahead for the university with new buildings and faculty coming on board.

"A lot of my cousins are proud, not only to read about somebody that could do it, but to actually know someone that did," said Ramos. "They did not know what Ph.D.s were, so I think they are now inspired to finish college, whereas before they just wanted to finish high school."

Both Ramos and Villarreal say they would like return to San Antonio to teach, research and help produce more successful Hispanic students.

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