Shaping the future minds of STEM in Puerto Rico
by Liorimar Ramos-Medina
For as long as I can recall, a multidimensional question has pervaded my mind: Why does someone “choose” to deviate from “normal” behaviors? Furthermore, how exactly does this cognitive switch occur? I was drawn to consider these issues because my father was a recurrent drug addict who spent most of my life in and out of jail and my mother suffered intermittent depression during most of my adolescence. The latter led me to assume an adult, caretaker role for my younger brothers and even for my mother. I always wondered if our parents were aware of the negative effects their actions had on us. Were they conscious of their decisions? Were they capable of making decisions at all? I could not tell. This lack of understanding filled me with questions I needed answered; unfortunately, school did not assist me.
However, things changed in college around spring 2011. In the books I read during freshman year, I discovered the beautiful inner structure and regulated operations of the human brain—its capacity to adapt in response to environmental stimuli and its role as the seat of our thoughts and actions never cease to amaze me. This plasticity explained the diversity I saw around me, including the complexity of my parents’ behavior. Moreover, I realized the great importance of interdisciplinary production of knowledge, informing my decision to obtain a research scholarship (MARC Program) in Dr. Gregory Quirk’s lab. My work contributed to elucidating the role of the rodent infralimbic cortex during the extinction phase of the auditory fear conditioning paradigm by optogenetic means. This posits particular relevance given its potential application to clinical research concerning anxiety and trauma-related mental disorders.
As I was preparing to apply to Ph.D. programs in cognitive neuroscience, my career took a detour in 2014. I accepted a teaching opportunity at a small, private school called Estancia Montessori in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. I became captivated with the translation of neuroscience findings to educational contexts, specifically as a potential path for transforming the notion of scientific culture in Puerto Rico and, in turn, how science curricula and educational investigative practices are carried out. For me, learning spaces became an effervescent laboratory where gradual landmarks of cognitive development occurred every day and thus could be rigorously explored, deconstructed, and even subjected to empirical validation.
Although I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus with a B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology, this experience made me redefine my core passions as science education and curriculum philosophy. After completing my master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, I aspire to be a public policy researcher and advocate in matters of science education. I strongly believe that for education to be effective on the collective level, one as an educator must always remain committed to comprehend diversity as the never-ending summation of intermingled subjectivities. I intend to work on that, both at a philosophical and experimental (if possible, of course) avenue, as my life’s mission.
During her bachelor’s degree on Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Puerto Rico, Liorimar Ramos-Medina collaborated in research projects related to the neurobiological mechanisms of cocaine addiction, under Dr. Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar; and to the learning and extinction of fear memories in rodents in Dr. Gregory Quirk’s Lab. She is an author in two peer-reviewed publications and has participated in research internships at UCSF and Columbia University. She is strongly committed to the development and spreading of scientific culture and awareness of brain and cognitive process at Puerto Rican schools and communities. Liorimar is currently finishing a masters program on Curriculum and Instruction of Science, and works as an educator at a private secondary school in Gurabo.