This is adventure: the class of 2024

Crossing against the traffic lights isn’t a campus tradition, but it’s common enough that Salma Ramirez Sanchez ’24 took the risk to hurry across 8th Avenue NE on a dusky evening in fall 2023. She was due at the soccer field where she was slated to film a game 

Salma Ramirez in front of George Hall

“I spotted Salma and joked with her later about the danger of that intersection,” said Mikeala Skelton, digital content producer in the Marketing and Communications office. “I said if I’d run over her, it would break my heart. A few of her professors nearby looked at me and said, ‘She’d still be in class the next day.’ That sums up Salma. She’s unstoppable.”

Ramirez came to Lenoir-Rhyne from her hometown of Malaga, a coastal city in the south of Spain, where she played for the local soccer team, Malaga Football Club, through high school. She hadn’t considered studying in the United States until a Spanish agency that specializes in assisting student-athletes to find placement at U.S. colleges and universities reached out.  

“At first I dismissed the idea,” said Ramirez. “But I wanted to continue playing soccer, and it’s very difficult to be a student-athlete in Spain. So, I said, ‘OK. Yes. Let’s do it.’”

The agency offered Ramirez a few options, and LR offered the best combination of playing conditions, academics, location and financial aid. 

“I know coming here was the right choice for sure because even though I'm not playing soccer anymore – which is the reason why I came here – I liked it so much that I decided to stay here to finish my major and get my degree,” Ramirez shared. “I like the campus, my professors, my classes, the environment, the community we have here. It feels like home.”

In 2022, long-term health complications following a bout of COVID-19 led Ramirez to leave her place on the women’s soccer team, but those complications also inspired the research that would earn her honors as a biochemistry major and recognition beyond LR.

“I experienced some digestive issues, so I’m very interested in nutrition as part of health and wellness,” Ramirez explained. “In my research, I wanted to look at alternative ways to treat infection and inflammation in the gut, and I wanted to look to the natural world for answers because I believe in natural compounds – especially as drug-resistant bacteria continue to increase.”

Ultimately, she designed and executed a study looking at oregano oil and its effect on Candida albicans, a fungus that causes yeast infections and athlete’s foot. According to the Centers for Disease Control several strains of Candida have shown growing evidence of drug resistance. Ramirez presented her findings to the North Carolina Academy of Science in April.

Salma Ramirez in front of George Hall

“Oregano oil is very powerful,” Ramirez explained. “You can ingest it, but you have to be very careful. It also works well as a topical treatment, but again you have to dilute it in another oil, like olive or coconut oil. However, if you use it correctly, it can wipe out a fungal infection very quickly, in a matter of days.”

Ramirez arrived on campus with her OK-yes-let’s-do-it attitude and became active in several campus organizations outside the soccer team – Outdoor Adventure Club, Math Club, the math and science honor society Chi Beta Phi, the LR Reps. She also became a camera operator for athletic events and worked as a lab assistant for Leslie Heffron, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology.

“The Outdoor Adventure club has been one of my most important activities,” said Ramirez. “There’s so much nature to experience in this region, and it’s very different from the city where I’m from. It’s been a very good opportunity to try so many new things.” 

As she plans for life after graduation, Ramirez has applied to several graduate programs in biochemistry in the United States. Even though she says her experiences abroad have given her a stronger appreciation for Spain, she is eager to expand her experiences here as well.

“I love the environment here near the mountains, but I’m hoping for graduate school somewhere even warmer,” she commented. “Ideally, I’d like to be enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Florida at this time next year.”

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