It was on an excruciatingly harsh and cold school trip to Texas Tech that I first met Ricardo Sosa. A small group of students from KIPP Houston High School had been invited to compete in a science poster contest and I was one of the chaperones. We traveled in an old yellow school bus that had several noticeable leaks and a heater that was unable to keep up with the demands of the frigid snowy weather that we encountered. By the time that we finally arrived at our destination after a thirteen hour ride that sorely tested our endurance, we were like a band of brothers and sisters forever linked by the exhausting experience. The trip back home didn’t prove to be much better as we shivered in sub-freezing conditions and a steady snow fall created puddles of water inside the bus. Even then I noted just how resilient and optimistic Ricardo Sosa was. His energy and natural curiosity would ultimately serve him well.
Ricardo’s interest in science intensified in his remaining high school years. He took advantage of every opportunity to participate in summer jobs, seminars and projects that emphasized science, especially anything related to chemistry. It was in an elective class called Research that he would first meet a college professor whose influence would change the course of his life. After graduating from KIPP Houston High School he took his talents to the University of Houston where he originally wanted to major in Biomedical Engineering. An offer to work in a lab on an important project ultimately led him to change his course of study to Chemical Engineering. While he never alluded to his accomplishments it became apparent to me from reading between the lines that he was an exceptional student and that his professors realized and encouraged his potential.
Ricardo and a friend from high school, Jezael, often met me for lunch in the University of Houston Hilton or the student center while they were still undergraduates. I always looked forward to those visits where I learned of their progress and we shared our stories about being UH Cougars and KIPPsters. Ricardo was taking incredibly demanding courses and there were times when I felt certain that it was difficult for him to find the time to take the breaks to dine with me. Somehow he always managed to find a way to come to those meetings if only for a short time and it was a joy to hear from him.
I learned that he was working in a university lab on a research project with several of his professors, a great and unusual honor for a freshman. Somehow they had understood like I had that Ricardo was someone with an exceptional intellect and a trustworthiness that would never let them down. His work was exemplary and he became one of their most trusted assistants. As Dr. Jeffrey Rimer explained about Ricardo, “It is not often that I accept students at the freshman level, but I made an exception for Ricardo, having met him the year before he started at UH, I was impressed with his enthusiasm for research. During the past four years, his performance in my laboratory has been nothing short of outstanding.”
Of course I never heard much about these kudos from Ricardo, an infinitely humble young man. Instead his former high school teachers spoke of his successes at the university and indicated that he was a star among his peers. His lab work dealt with important experiments with potential new treatments for kidney stones. He assisted so professionally and with such dedication that his professors at the university were in awe of him and asked him to co-author two of the papers that described the progress that they were making.
Ricardo made his way through the grueling coursework required of his major, taking classes in advanced mathematics, chemistry, physics and engineering while continuing his work on the long term study that fascinated him. By his own admission the lab work sometimes stole time from his studies but it was also perhaps the most exciting aspect of his education. Last Friday he earned his degree in Chemical Engineering surrounded by friends and family who felt immeasurable pride for his accomplishment. There was much celebrating and fanfare but perhaps Ricardo’s most impressive news was still to come.
He has decided to continue his studies so that he might pursue a PhD. His professors encouraged him to apply for a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to help him finance his future work. Ricardo knew that only ten percent of the people who apply for this prestigious research fellowship are selected in any given year. He also realized that it had been four years since anyone from the University of Houston had been awarded the prize. Still he wanted to try because he is not someone to shy away from any task. Two other University of Houston students were finalists for the award but it was Ricardo who submitted the winning proposal based on his four years of work in the lab. The fellowship will take care of his educational expenses and provide him with a stipend as he works toward his doctorate.
Ricardo has always set high expectations for himself and has never been afraid to accept a challenge. He is an incredibly motivated young man who most importantly is fascinated by the way things work in the world around him. He would scoff if I were to call him a genius to his face but I believe that the title suits him well. His sharp mind combined with a nonstop work ethic is bound to propel him to do wondrous things. He is a thinking man with a determination not so much to earn fame and glory but to make a significant difference for mankind. I suspect that he would want to study and learn and discover even if it never earned him a dime. He has never lost the glorious curiosity that is the mark of the greats among us.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Ricardo Sosa is that he is a truly good man. He loves his family and is ever loyal to his friends. He has a never-ending sense of humor and never forgets to demonstrate his gratitude for those who have helped him. He believes in the importance of staying healthy by working out, running and eating right. He seems to have mastered all of the positive habits of a truly well-rounded person.
I feel blessed to know Ricardo Sosa. He is a very special person and I look forward to continuing our journey and watching the realization of his dreams and achievements.