Nothing So-So About Marco

Marco Ramirez.
Marco Ramirez

Clinical psychology doctoral student loves working with moms and infants

Marco Ramirez Gonzalez came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was five and lived in El Paso, Texas, close to the border. Later, his family moved to Houston where he attended Seven Lakes High School, an enormous school with an enormous population of 3,600 high-achieving students. Marco called himself a “so-so student” and referred to Seven Lakes as “super competitive.” How competitive? Marco graduated with a 4.2 GPA and scored 1390 on the SAT—that competitive. But this humble and hard-working young man held his own at Seven Lakes, and it was there when psychology first piqued his interest.

Marco’s psychology teacher Amy Davis, now retired, often discussed her mentor Philip Zimbardo and his research. Zimbardo, an American psychologist, and emeritus professor from Stanford, is perhaps most well-known for his Stanford prison experiment—a two-week long project that went horribly wrong.

“It was the first time,” Marco said, “I realized I was truly engaged in class.” He also realized how fortunate he was to study under Davis. She and the class had such a positive and lasting impact on Marco that he planned to study psychology at Texas A&M.  

Because Marco is bilingual, he was offered a translation job in the Development of Mind and Emotions Laboratory under director Rebecca Brooker. They studied the ways biological and environmental factors influence emotional development in infants by collecting electroencephalogram (EEG) data from a device that measures electrical activity in the brain using small electrodes attached to the scalp. Babies and their mothers participate in different activities, such as a modified version of the marshmallow experiment, the strange situation, and still face paradigms, all under Mom’s watchful eye.

When this initial job ended, the researchers asked Marco if he wanted to stay. He knew there was a long waiting list to get into the lab and that he was loving the work, so he said Yes. At this time, Marco was also collaborating on a project funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development with another faculty mentor, Marc Goodrich, to study early language and literacy development in elementary-aged bilingual children.

It probably comes as no surprise that Marco ’s mentors started nudging him toward applying to PhD programs. When he realized he could look deeper into the research he so enjoyed, and that earning a PhD would open him up to many more career opportunities, Marco agreed. After looking at other programs, he discovered research being conducted by Professor Masha Gartstein at Washington State University would be the perfect fit.

Gartstein serves as the chair of the psychology department at WSU and heads the Infant Temperament Laboratory. She is an expert in clinical developmental psychology, and the research projects she has been involved in have received over $6 million in external grant funding. Gartstein’s interests include child temperament, development psychopathology, the biological underpinnings of temperament, and cross-cultural differences. Her work has even been featured in the 2020 Netflix documentary Babies.

And if the research interests weren’t enough to draw Marco to the Pacific Northwest, and WSU, he was invited to apply for the Graduate Diversity Assistantship Pathways Program (GDAPP), which aims to increase access and opportunities for domestic students from underrepresented groups.

Just as he had predicted, Marco has found Gartstein is a fantastic mentor who provides him with invaluable support and guidance. He truly enjoys working in the Temperament Lab and interacting with the mothers and babies who participate. Marco said. “Dr. Gartstein enables me to continue building on my knowledge.”

With Canela, the GDAPP community, and a passion for what he’s doing and learning, it sure seems there is nothing so-so about Marco.  

Adapted from the WSU Graduate School.