"Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don't just give up." ~ Stephen Hawking
We recently met a curious 12-year-old young lady whose goal of becoming an astronomer suggests worlds of knowledge beyond her 7th-grade studies. Her personal reading includes books in the fantasy genre, especially “Harry Potter,” and inspiration from the respected scientist, Stephen Hawking, for his work on the physics of black holes. And since she already has a star named after her, she's poised and ready to take her place in Mr. Hawking's world.
The youngest daughter of Jorge and Maria Ramirez, Valeria describes her family as “fantastic” and readily admits that her older sisters, ages 25, 23 and 22, lovingly tease her. Even amidst all the joking around, they are trusting, considerate, and helpful to one another.
Science and fantasy intersected for Valeria even in her early studies. In 5th grade, perseverance helped her win second place in a speech contest—one in which she had placed third the previous year. Her topic was "wars and natural disasters in Japan," which she describes as horrific and damaging. Valeria's research led her to share a PowerPoint presentation of her findings with an audience of nearly 40 students.
While honing her presentation and academic skills, she applied to The Immokalee Foundation. Valeria learned she was accepted into the program when she was called to the library with a few other students. Each student was given a "message in a bottle." With great excitement, she took the bottle home to her mother so her family could learn about her acceptance together.
Now in her second year as a Foundation student, Valeria is thriving in the middle school Careers Pathways program. This past summer, she participated in The Immokalee Foundation's STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Summer Camp at Florida Gulf Coast University. Originally intended to be a four-week, the in-person camp focused on math, chemistry and environmental science, the program transformed into a virtual Zoom camp due to COVID-19. Supplies for experiments were delivered to participants' homes.
Was this like Harry Potter's potions class? Well, not exactly, but the transformation was so successful, ABC-7 aired a feature segment on the program—one that featured Valeria's wonderful public speaking skills.
For fun—and to provide greater insight into her—we asked Valeria a lightning round of questions.
Q: If you were invited on a mission to Mars, would you go?
Q: What would you want to discover?
A: A nebula—an enormous cloud of dust and gas occupying the space between stars and acting as a nursery for new stars.
Q: How did you get a star named after you?
A: My sister and her boyfriend registered a star in my name for my birthday.
Q: Is there intelligent life on other planets?
Q: What do you like best about the “Harry Potter” books?
A: The characters are iconic and the adventures never end for the kids.
Q: What would you like to see more of?
A: Kindness to others in America and more giving to the poor. I want to focus as much as possible on helping others, treating everyone as equals, and being kind to those in need.
With her curiosity, determination, kindness, sense of wonder, and adoring family, this future astronomer has already established a firm foundation for a career. She may have two feet on the ground now, but Valeria is truly a star on the rise.
"Eye on Immokalee" is a student profile series from The Immokalee Foundation. The Foundation provides a wide range of educational programs that focus on building pathways to professional careers through support, mentoring and tutoring, and life skills development leading to economic independence.
Participating students achieve a 100% high school graduation rate, 100% continue to postsecondary programs, and 91% complete their professional certification programs or college educations.
To learn more about becoming a mentor, volunteering as a career panel speaker or host, donating, or including the Foundation in your estate plans, call 239-430-9122 or visit ImmokaleeFoundation.org.