UMass Boston

Class of 2024 JFK Award Winner Committed to Reducing Health Disparities

05/29/2024| Danielle Bilotta

Rosita Beatriz Ramirez Ventura, Class of 2024 graduate from the College of Science and Mathematics, was named this year’s JFK Award for Academic Excellence recipient, the highest honor a UMass Boston undergraduate student can receive.

Class of 2024 JFK Award Winner Rosita Ramirez
Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Rosita Beatriz Ramirez Ventura, Provost Joseph Berger at the Class of 2024 undergraduate ceremony.
Image By: Javier Rivas, Haley Abram, Nick Brady, and Jack Macmullin

Ramirez will graduate with a degree in biochemistry, after completing her Senior Honors Thesis research at Harvard Medical School, where she also serves as a mentor to Boston Public Schools students through the MEDscienceLAB K-12 science outreach program.

Post-graduation, Ramirez is looking forward to continuing her investigation into the genetic mechanisms of Mesial Temporal Lobe Epilepsy under Dr. Sattar Khoshkhoo, founding director of the Epilepsy Genetics Clinic at Brighman and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, while she applies to MD/PhD dual degree programs in pursuit of becoming a physician scientist.

“Rosita Ramirez has shown a dedication to service that is truly laudable,” Megan Rokop, chair of the 2024 JFK Award Selection Committee wrote in a nomination letter. “The committee was in awe of Rosita’s accomplishments during college, and the committee found Rosita to be an intelligent and articulate individual who is truly dedicated to the service of our university, our city, and our world.”

Being named the JFK Award recipient has been a humbling experience and is a culmination of the collective efforts and the unwavering support of those who have supported and inspired her along the way, Ramirez said. Born in the United States to Guatemalan parents, Ramirez’s family moved back to Guatemala when she was seven years old. She returned a decade later by herself to pursue her education, starting at Westfield State University before transferring to UMass Boston to study biochemistry.

“As the first person in my family to graduate college, this award is as much my own as it is my for my family and my community,” she said. “This recognition serves as a beacon of hope for the next generation of immigrants, proving that despite what comes with being a Latinx student, there are boundless possibilities waiting for us.”

Raised in a single-parent household after her father passed away when she was young, Ramirez’s mother taught her how to navigate through life’s challenges with love, strength, and resilience, and to always help others in need. Inspired by the lessons her mother taught her, Ramirez has dedicated much of her time to service, including volunteering as a mentor, organizing panel discussions on diversity in STEM, and preparing and delivering COVID-19 test kits for MetroWest Union Hospital during the height of the pandemic.

“Through service, my goal was to turn my challenges into positive, lasting change, and to be a voice for those who have been historically oppressed and overlooked,” she said. “Every day, I strive to be a better human, empower the next generation of leaders, achieve social justice, and dismantle the systemic racism that continues to disproportionally affect the health and wealth equity in our communities.”

Although her journey back to the United States felt uncertain and lonely, Ramirez describes UMass Boston as a place of refuge and a second home as she balanced multiple jobs while pursuing her degree.

“It wasn’t just a place of learning; it was a place where I could grow, thrive, and discover my potential,” she said. “This campus fed me when I struggled to put food on my table, hugged me when I had nobody to turn to, and provided me with a sense of belonging.”

During her time as a student, she had the opportunity to complete programs at Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, which sparked her interested in becoming a researcher. She also studied abroad in Ghana, Africa, where she learned about local and global health disparities, deepening her commitment to reducing health barriers and bridging the gap between science and innovative medicine.

“As I prepare for the road ahead of me, I will never forget that it was UMass Boston that helped me arrive at these realizations, gave me the foundation for my future, and provided me with opportunity after opportunity to succeed,” she said.

Ramirez hopes her commencement speech recognizes and celebrates the wonderful diversity at UMass Boston, especially of her fellow first-gen graduates. Reaching graduation is a testament to the resilience, determination, and commitment to education against all odds, and her goal for her speech is for the audience to see themselves reflected in her words and to be inspired to pursue their own dreams fearlessly.

“As the first ones in our families to approach higher education, we are not simply breaking cycles, but rather, we are starting new generations,” she said. “In a world that is quick to tell us that our ideas and plans were too bold and unrealistic, we held on to our ability to dream and aspire to occupy spaces where we have not traditionally seen ourselves represented.”