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NREL: GEM Intern Keeps Passion for Social Justice and Engineering Close to Heart

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Throughout her academic journey, Katrina Ramirez-Meyers has always pursued equal paths of heart and science. Whether collaborating with West African communities in the Peace Corps or building her skills as an engineer and scholar, her end goal is always about empowering people.

“I was living in a place without electricity for two years while trying to teach and do community development work—it really changed my perspective,” Ramirez-Meyers said about her time in Africa. “I became obsessed with the importance of electricity in facilitating development and education. It also allowed me a lot of time to really think about what I wanted to do. I always thought about engineering, but never really had the opportunity.”

Ramirez-Meyers, a Ph.D. candidate in materials science engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, spent the summer at NREL as a 2022 Graduate Education Minority (GEM) fellow, conducting data analysis and working on heat exchanger designs.

What she learned at NREL, she said, is to always follow her dreams and never let the fear of the unknown stand in her way. Over the summer, she found mentors who helped reveal where her personal passions merge with engineering.

“Throughout my career, I’ve made an effort to look for minority women faculty who I could look to as an example,” she said. “GEM and NSF [National Science Foundation]—they really give you the freedom to dream big. It’s very empowering.”

The GEM Consortium recruits underrepresented students pursuing or looking to pursue graduate degrees in applied science and engineering, matching their skills to the technical needs of participating employers.

Skilled in math and science, but unsure of what to do next, Ramirez-Meyers wanted to explore her options. She majored in math and Spanish as an undergraduate at Goucher College, then joined the Peace Corps teaching high school math and helping with community development in Gerihun, Sierra Leone. She also received a prestigious National Science Foundation graduate fellowship while completing her master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas–Austin.

Next year, Ramirez-Meyers is scheduled to earn her doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University. She and her fiancé then hope to start the next chapter of their lives living in Colorado. She plans to pursue a new role at either at NREL or in academia.

Any of the scholarly success Ramirez-Meyers found to-date, she said, truly begins with her family. She grew up in Texas, where the solid foundation her parents provided took root. Her mother is a federal public defender, and her father received technical training a plumber.

“So many people have influenced me. Everyone I interact with, I take notes,” Ramirez-Meyers said. “The most influential would be my mom. She is very much a feminist and activist. She always taught me to go for what I want—especially if girls don’t do it.”

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