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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.
It’s often a course, research experience or personal experience that drives students into one field or another. But for Jorge Ramos-Holguín, a recent graduate of Arizona State University’s Environmental Life Sciences PhD program, his interest in the environment started much sooner.
When Ramos was a teenager in Ciudad Juárez, México, his father gave him a book titled “El Gran Libro Verde,” by Fred Pearce. A section in that book about greenhouse gasses sparked his interest in ecology — something that only grew stronger as time went on.
“There was a chapter about how the accelerated greenhouse gasses were already affecting our planet. It was illustrated with a planet Earth and a very hot thermometer and a sad or worried face,” recalled Ramos. “I still remember that image, and I’m sure it was at that moment that I wanted to keep learning about how that effect will impact our planet.”
Ramos said he chose to study at Arizona State University because the ecology and sustainability scientists are among the best in the world. He studied wetland ecosystems, and people would often ask him, “Why did you choose an institution in the desert to study wetlands?” His answer was that the best water resources research, including that where wetlands play an important role in cities, is done in areas where water is needed most.
During his time at ASU’s School of Life Sciences, Ramos pictured himself getting involved in academia, possibly as a professor or full-time researcher. While he enjoyed his time teaching, particularly teaching undergraduates about ecology, outreach and science communication events with the general public, his career took him in a new direction — one that he is passionate about.
Now, he is the manager of the Marine Climate Change team inside the Center for Oceans at Conservation International in Washington, D.C. He is managing the Blue Carbon Initiative, leading the International Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group, and globally supporting both coastal adaptation and mitigation projects in the Americas division.
Question: What are your plans after graduation?
Answer: Actually, just two weeks after my PhD defense, I started a permanent, full-time job with Conservation International! I have been in D.C. since March and just four days after graduation, I will be flying to Costa Rica for a workshop on climate change mitigation and adaptation in Latin America countries. I know, tough job!
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would create new adaptation strategies for coastal communities that are susceptible to the impending effects of climate change. More than half the people in the world live relatively close to oceans. We have to think about how they can adapt to dangerous and more frequent extreme events in the future.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: You have to be able to work with others. Be a good listener. Be a good teammate. Be honest. Overall, just be a good colleague. ASU seems like a big place but everyone knows everyone, just like in the outside world. If you are able to successfully interact at ASU and its diverse group of people, you are gaining a skill much more important than a 4.0 GPA.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Focus on ideas and projects worth writing about and actually sit down and do it! Work with others and write about the process of working with others, not only the outcome. It’s OK to be wrong; just make sure you figure out why you were wrong and find ways to pick yourself up and finish it. Also, enjoy your time at school! It’s the one time in your life you will have the most flexibility in allocating your time to both work and fun.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: Going up the steps of LSE all the way to the top with friends!
Q: Was there a particular person, course or experience at ASU that inspired you in some way?
A: I will just say this and the people associated with a certain research trip will know what I am talking about: “Cuatro Ciénegas — jajaja.” If you want to know more about it, ask Dr. Jim Elser to give me a $500 Mexican pesos bill and I will tell you the story.
Q: What is one really special moment or memory during your time at ASU that you will always remember after graduation?
A: I will always remember how proud my committee was after my PhD defense and how they kept congratulating my parents. Completing a PhD was not just my personal achievement, it was a team effort that included support from my family, my committee and many friends.