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Capturing the American Dream by Cathy Cashio
Wintet 2003      


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TRIO Center at UNT


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Capturing the American Dream


From discovering how genes work by peering at fruit flies to fighting for justice at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the American dream takes many forms.

For Eddie Ramos, the dream is genetic research. Angela Eke's passion is counseling. Activism and teaching are Julie Lantrip's delights.

The TRIO Center, housed in UNT's College of Education, helped each of these individuals realize their dreams.

A federally funded plan, TRIO helps middle school, high school and college students from disadvantaged backgrounds earn high school diplomas and college degrees.

It matches the expertise of mentors and educators to the needs of students.

High hopes


Eddie Ramos


Ramos ('97) needed to satisfy his curiosity about what makes things tick. While growing up on a five-acre farm in rural Texas, he observed animals and plants to understand how they develop.

"I learned about the natural world from caring for animals," he says. "I liked to look at ants and how they organize their colonies."

Today, he studies how genes' functions are organized. It was a long journey from the farm to the laboratory.

In the seventh grade, Ramos' mother moved him and his four siblings to the Dallas area. The family struggled financially.

"My mother, who emigrated from Mexico before I was born, inspired me to do my best," he says. "She made pizzas and cleaned offices and warehouses to support our dreams."

Ramos says despite working through college, he had many financial hardships. He says all that changed when he became a TRIO Ronald E. McNair scholar. He could focus more on research.

"I had my first chance to experience structured laboratory research while working as a McNair scholar in UNT's biochemistry lab," Ramos says.

In the lab of now retired biological sciences professor Ruthann Masaracchia, he dreamed of expanding his research and focusing on developmental biology and genetics.

"The McNair program was a source of information and support to take the next step to graduate school," he says.

Ramos completed a master's degree in molecular biology in 2000 and a doctoral degree in genetics in 2003 from Penn State University. He is currently conducting post-doctoral research in genetics at Johns Hopkins University.

He says by learning how chromosomes organize themselves, he can help rewire faulty genes to do their job.

His research is opening doors to help cure diseases.

Shoppers' secrets


Angela Eke

Like Ramos, Eke ('96) needed effort and good fortune to make her dreams come true.

"When I was 12, I read a newspaper article claiming that the area of Fort Worth where I lived was the poorest side," she says. "It never dawned on me I was poor."

Eke says her father had two jobs. He was an electrician and owned a janitorial service. Her mother drove a school bus.

"My father found free entertainment for the family by taking us to the mall," she says. "We wouldn't buy anything. We'd just watch people.

"My dad would ask me to guess what a person did for a living based on how they dressed or their body movements. Sometimes, he'd ask what I thought the shoppers were thinking. I knew then that I wanted to be a psychologist."

After receiving a scholarship from Wiley College in Marshall, which was then a two-year institution, she completed an associate's degree. She dreamed of pursuing a bachelor's degree but needed another scholarship.

She says her life changed during a visit to UNT when she applied to the McNair program and was accepted.

"My McNair mentor, Dr. David Baker [a former associate professor in the UNT Department of Psychology], and Dr. James Duban, director of the Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships, were major role models," Eke says.

Duban, also a professor of English, says Eke took UNT by storm.

"She went on to distinguish herself in a demanding Ph.D. program in psychology at the University of Wisconsin," he says.

Today, Eke is a school psychologist for the Fort Worth school district, counseling students with behavior problems. She's giving back to the community where she grew up.

Voice lessons


Julie Lantrip


Lantrip ('94), a Harvard-trained attorney, international activist and educator, is giving back in a different way.

Raised in Aubrey, she had hard-working parents who encouraged her to complete her education. When the UNT director of Upward Bound visited her high school, she found that opportunity.

"It was a chance to have my questions answered about testing and funding for college," she says. "It was also a chance to meet students who were different from me in race and background."

Lantrip became part of three TRIO programs that helped prepare her for her life's work — Upward Bound, Discovery and McNair.

"As an Upward Bound student, I began exploring ideas of human rights and diversity," she says. "It was valuable training for my activism. What I learned by tutoring students in TRIO's Discovery program would eventually lead to a teaching career. And I credit the McNair program with being the top factor Harvard considered in my application."

Lantrip studied human rights and international law at Harvard Law School after graduating from UNT with a bachelor's degree in social science. She later served as a staff attorney for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, part of the Organization of American States, in San Jose, Costa Rica.

"I researched international human rights issues with Kosavar refugees through Amnesty International at Fort Dix and dealt with torture, disappearances and executions in Central and South America," she says.

After researching human rights abroad, she returned to Denton. While working at a law firm and volunteering at the Cumberland Children's Home, she decided to get her teaching certificate.

"I wanted to use my experience as an attorney and activist to educate students," she says.

She currently teaches conflict resolution, empathizing and peer mediation at Fossil Hill Middle School in Keller.

"TRIO taught me that everyone has a right to have their voice heard," she says. "Now I teach my students to find their voice."

TRIO Programs

The TRIO Center at UNT started in 1984 to house federally funded programs designed to meet the needs of economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students. TRIO, which began nationally in 1965 with three programs, now includes five programs at UNT.

Talent Search, Upward Bound and Upward Bound Math and Science help junior high and high school students progress toward a high school diploma and go on to college. Once they reach college, Discovery provides services geared to help them graduate, and the Ronald E. McNair program affords research and mentoring opportunities in an effort to send students on to graduate schools.

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