2020 Baylor grad’s life challenges fueling her passion (& studies) to help others
Treasure Ramirez’s Baylor mentor, Dr. Emily Smith, says her name is fitting: “She definitely is a Treasure to those who know her, and a gift to the world around her.”
Today, Ramirez (BBA ’20) is a Baylor Ph.D. student, one year removed from earning a degree in economics and excelling as a member of Baylor’s first class of McNair Scholars. She is pursuing a doctorate in health services research, and hopes to promote mental health in underserved communities by creating support programs to address mental health and addiction needs. To meet her now, it would be hard to imagine the path she traveled to this point.
Before Ramirez had even reached her teenage years, she was thrust into the role of primary caretaker in a family that had failed to care for her. Her mother juggled alcohol and drug addictions, as well as mental health challenges such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Both her mother and stepfather were abusive, to one another and to her. When she and her mother finally left her stepfather, her mother’s deteriorating health, compounded by substance abuse, had already placed a heavy burden on Treasure. She spent months sleeping in hospitals and motels, doing her best to navigate a world marked by trauma and dysfunction.
“It was really a toxic situation,” Ramirez says today. “My stepfather scared me to death, and my mother was verbally abusive and aggressive… I saw a lot of violence growing up.”
When she was 12 years old, she reached out to an uncle who had vowed to be there for her. Within 24 hours, he was there, moving her from the Dallas area to Austin, where she became a part of their household. Amidst dramatic change, she found her footing and began to excel academically. When it came time to go to college, she wanted to go where her aunt and uncle, Joe and Lisa Sims, had gone.
“They met here and ended up getting married, so I already had a connection to Baylor,” Treasure says. “But the biggest thing was I saw how my aunt and uncle impacted my life, and I saw the school they went to and how it shaped them. I said, ‘I want to do the same thing so I can be the next Uncle Joe and Aunt Lisa for whoever runs into my life.’”
At Baylor, Ramirez was accepted into the McNair Scholars program, which provides opportunities for first-generation students, military veterans and high-achieving students from other traditionally underrepresented groups to prepare for doctoral studies in science, technology and math. Being a McNair Scholar, she says, “changed everything.”
Dr. Emily Smith was a natural mentor; Ramirez says her time in Smith’s class was “when my love of learning came back,” and that Smith truly “saw me. She totally changed my life, building me up as a person. I could feel the empathy from her, and she says that I am my name.”
Before graduating last year, Ramirez interned at Johns Hopkins University. Along the way, she and her mother spent time working on their relationship, as Treasure addressed the heartache her mother had caused and her mother expressed pride in her — moments that helped provide some closure when her mother passed away last fall.
She still grapples with the trauma of her upbringing; “I know I’m really strong, but it affects me on a daily basis.” But, with the help of Smith, she’s channeled those challenges into fuel to help others, using her research and scholarship to someday provide the types of services that might have changed her mother’s life — and her own.
“It’s very rewarding to transition my research interests into something very personal to me,” Treasure says, “because I could see that if my mom had actual services that helped her with her alcoholism, maybe my childhood would be different.
“I want to be that change for the next person that may be going through this, so I can reach out before it happens.”
Sic ’em, Treasure Ramirez!