Feature Stories

The Sisters Ramos, Two High School Valedictorians, Excel at NJIT

The sisters Ramos: Kathya on the left, Jennifer to her right.

The Ramos sisters, Kathya and Jennifer, always excelled academically. They both graduated from high school as class valedictorians.  During their junior and senior years in high school, they both took pre-college classes in math and science at NJIT.   Those classes, offered by the Center for Pre-College Programs, gave them a solid foundation in pre-engineering.  So, when it came time for them to pick a university, they both choose NJIT.

Kathya is now a junior majoring in chemical engineering, while Jennifer is a freshman majoring in civil engineering.  Both also belong to NJIT’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). Carlomagno Ontaneda, the EOP recruiter who over the years has helped thousands of minority students not only come to but excel at NJIT, recruited the sisters.  He met them during a college night at their high school, Benedictine Academy, in Elizabeth.  He told them about the EOP, and suggested they take pre-college classes at NJIT. The Ramos family lives in the ironbound section of Newark, close to campus.  The sisters took his advice and, during their junior and senior years of high school, spent their Saturdays mornings at NJIT, taking college-level math and science classes 

The classes paid off. For both sisters now excel at NJIT. 

Kathya Ramos, 20, is a member of the Hispanic Organization of Students in Technology /Society of Professional Engineers (HOST/SHPE), a group that encourages Hispanics to study engineering.  She also belongs to the Society of Women Engineers and to Phi Eta Sigma, the national honor society for freshman. Professor Martin Katzen also hired her to work as a math tutor in his first-level math classes. One summer, she also interned at Integra Life Sciences, a surgical instrument company. The internship gave her real-life experience in her major: chemical engineering.  Her name perennially appears on the dean’s list and she has five scholarships: the New Jersey Bloustein Distinguished Scholarship; the NJIT Urban Scholarship Recipient, the Arnold Allentuch Memorial Scholarship, the Chemical Engineering Merit Award and a Student Scholarship from the Ecuadorian Civic Committee.

“My mother started college in Ecuador but then she met my dad and got married and the two of them came to America,” says Kathya. “My mother wanted to study chemical engineering, so in a way I’m living out her dream.  Both my parents always encouraged us to do well in school, and we always wanted to make them proud.”

Jennifer Ramos, 18, is finishing up her first semester at NJIT. Unlike Kathya, who focuses solely on academics, Jennifer is a passionate athlete. She’s a member of the women’s soccer team and the women’s fencing team.  Even though she never fenced a day in her life before arriving at NJIT, she received a fencing scholarship.  One day she tried out for the fencing team and the coach, seeing her athleticism, suspected she’d develop into a top fencer and so gave her a scholarship.   She also has two academic scholarships: the New Jersey Bloustein Distinguished Scholarship and the James P. Boyle Scholarship from the Hispanic Scholarship fund.

In high school, Jennifer played an array of sports -- soccer, basketball, softball and track – while maintaining an A average.  At NJIT, she, like Kathya, belongs to Hispanic Organization of Students in Technology /Society of Professional Engineers (HOST/SHPE) and the Society of Women Engineers.  Jennifer says she sees Kathya as a mentor. When Kathya was named her class valedictorian in high school, Jennifer, then a sophomore, strove for and was later named her senior class valedictorian. Kathya came to NJIT by way of EOP to study engineering and, two years later, Jennifer followed in her sister’s wake.  But, Jennifer says, both of them get their strong work ethic from their hard-working immigrant parents.

“It was hard on them, immigrating to America, and they came so that we could get the best educations,” says Jennifer.  “I saw how hard they worked to send us to a private high school and then to college.  So I always wanted to make them proud by doing well in school.  One day, when I and my sister graduate and become professionals, our parents will be extremely proud of us.”  

(By Robert Florida, University Web Services)