Four years ago, when Ramon Jauregui ’15 was planning to major in political studies, he might not have been surprised to hear he would meet with senators on Capitol Hill at the end of his senior year. But if you had told him he would be discussing atmospheric chemistry in DC—and his experiments in a 43-cubic-meter Teflon chamber rigged with 170 black lights—he would have thought you were nuts.
Ramon first took chemistry classes at Pitzer’s W.M. Keck Science Department just to get requirements out of the way. Then he met Professor of Chemistry Katie Purvis-Roberts. In a highly specialized atmospheric lab at UC Riverside, she and a select group of undergraduate and graduate students were researching organic compounds that are used by coal-fired power plants to reduce the amount of CO2 they produce. She invited Ramon to join her team. For Ramon, chemistry was no longer a requirement—it was a passion.
This spring, Ramon presented the team’s findings at Posters on the Hill, which shows US policy makers the importance of undergraduate research. He’s the first student from Keck to be selected for the national event. On his first trip to the country’s capital, the Arizona native discussed organic compounds and public policy with Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, Congressman Ruben Gallego and Senator John McCain’s staff.
Ramon’s hike up Capitol Hill started a long time ago. He’s a first-generation college student whose parents immigrated to the US from Mexico. Born in Arizona, he spent first and most of second grade in Mexico. When his family returned to Phoenix, he spoke English as a second language and had to play catch up in school.
Ramon set his sights on a high school with an International Baccalaureate program. They turned him down at first, but even in eighth grade he showed the kind of determination that would serve him well as a linebacker in high school and rugby player in college.
“I never had a Plan B. For me, it’s Plan A or it’s nothing. I knew from the very beginning that I had to do something—that I couldn’t just stand still,” Ramon says.
He worked his way into the high school’s honors program. Then he got into Pitzer, early decision. Now, the biochemistry major will go to the University of Washington to do a yearlong, post-grad research program, and later pursue a PhD, either in Seattle or at another top research university.
One day, he plans to return to DC to influence science policy on a national level and represent two groups he says he didn’t see enough of on the Hill: minorities and scientists.
“I came to Pitzer as a political studies major, then I ended up doing science. So now I found a way I can merge the two.”
Sometimes Plan A is even better than you planned.