Stephany Flores Ramos

Stephany Flores Ramos ’17 has already traveled many miles in her life—from Peru to Hawaii to Massachusetts to San Diego—and now a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans will help her reach her next goal: a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences.

She is one of 30 young scholars chosen in 2021, from an applicant pool of 2,445, to receive up to $90,000 over the next two years in support of a graduate-level education. All of the Soros Fellowship winners are immigrants or children of immigrants to the United States.

Flores Ramos was born in the Peruvian Andes, but interpersonal strife and economic hardships prompted her family to migrate to the island of Maui, Hawaii, when she was 7. As they adjusted to life there, “I actually spent the first year or two just not speaking,” says Flores Ramos, whose first language is Spanish. She describes herself as a “very curious” and “philosophical” child who often had her nose buried in a book or her “head in the clouds,” while her parents worked hard to provide for her and her younger brother. Around middle school, she began developing an interest in STEM fields. “I liked how neat and clear math was,” she says: “there’s always one answer, and there’s no ambiguity.”

One reason she applied to Amherst was for its neuroscience program (the first such program for undergraduates in the country, established in 1973)—but she ended up majoring in biology, discovering the world of microbes as a Summer Science Undergraduate Research Fellow in the lab of Associate Professor Alexandra Purdy, who eventually became her senior thesis adviser. Flores Ramos’ thesis project, also supported by Amherst’s Michael Kauffman ’85 Fellowship in Biomedical Research, was about the relationship between a small squid species and a bioluminescent microbe called Vibrio fischeri. “I am so incredibly proud of Stephany,” Purdy says. “She presented her senior thesis work at a national meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. As a result of her thesis project, she will be first author on an upcoming manuscript.”

Flores Ramos also majored in statistics, developing a “sophisticated level of data acumen,” says Nicholas Horton, the Beitzel Professor of Technology and Society (Statistics and Data Science). Horton also praises her creativity, energy and leadership capacity, saying, “The world needs more Stephs to ensure a vibrant and connected future.”

Flores Ramos says support from Purdy and Horton has been instrumental to her success. She also appreciates the friends who helped her refine and personalize her application essays and practice interviewing for the Soros Fellowship. And she enjoyed the real interviews themselves, some of which were done by previous years’ Soros recipients: “It was nice to meet these Fellows that are super successful now.”

Amherst’s previous Soros Fellows have included Bess Hanish ’13, who won the award in 2013 and is now an attorney, and Carlos Adolfo Gonzalez Sierra ’14, who won in 2020 as is working toward his J.D. and master’s in public policy at Harvard Law School.

After graduating from Amherst and dedicating a year to microbial research at the Forsyth Institute in Cambridge, Mass., Flores Ramos enrolled at the University of California, San Diego, where she is now in her second year of a Ph.D. program in biomedical sciences. She works in a lab that studies microbes to find metabolites that might one day be used to help treat obesity and diabetes.

She enjoys being part of an interdisciplinary group of biologists, chemists, statisticians and others who take varying approaches to the research—and she is active on a committee to increase inclusion and retention of underrepresented minorities in the program. No matter where her career takes her next, whether academia or industry, she says she wants to help bring diverse teams of scientists together.