Center at UNT
Up With Debbie
the American Dream
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.
('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
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
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.
Eke ('96) needed effort and good fortune to make her dreams
"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
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.
('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
"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
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."
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.