USCB Faculty Guides Standout Students to Academic, Financial Opportunities

USCB Faculty Guides Standout Students to Academic, Financial Opportunities

February 6, 2019

BLUFFTON, S.C. –  Holli Ramirez has packed a lot of living in her 22 years. Born in Arizona, she lived in the metro Fort Lauderdale area, but considers Charleston her home. She spent two years in Abu Dhabi, UAE; then lived in Chennai, India; and then Bamako, Mali, where she survived a military coup. Then it was back to Charleston before heading off to Lima, Peru, with the family.

Since then, she has earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of South Carolina Beaufort, and served an internship with Sen. Lindsey Graham's office in Washington, D.C. Now, she is a contractor with the Diplomatic Security Service for the U.S. State Department. Oh, and she's also writing a book entitled, "They Ditched Me in Africa."

"It's essentially a testimonial about my life as a third-culture kid and my experiences growing up in the foreign service," she says. "When we lived in Africa, my dad and my brother got very sick with a parasite. They were evacuated to London as a medical emergency. They sent my mom as my brother's guardian. I was a freshman in high school. I had exams coming up right before Thanksgiving and Christmas break, so they left me there with another American family from the embassy and they went to London, not knowing when they would be back."

Ramirez wants to follow in her father's footsteps as a federal law enforcement officer with the State Department. Her goal is to become a special agent providing diplomatic security. The experience she's gaining now as a contractor will be vital to her future professional career.

"I'm in the major events unit," she says. "We handle all of the events that the U.S. has a big presence in." That includes the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France from June 7 to July 7. And the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, from July 26 to Aug. 11. "We partner with the embassies to do security assessments of the area and the region as well as provide event support."

With a background like this, it was no surprise Ramirez was selected as a prime example of a USCB Standout Student. Now in its first year, the Standout Student program identifies students selected by members of the faculty and makes them aware of opportunities to expand their educational experiences.

"Our goal is to alert out students to internships, scholarships and fellowship opportunities in their chosen discipline," says Kim Ritchie, Ph.D., associate professor of genetics and prokaryotic cell biology in the USCB Department of Natural Sciences. Dr. Ritchie is chair of the Students' Scholarship and Fellowship Committee, which organized the event. The committee includes: Kim Cavanagh, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Social Sciences; Beth Hammond, Ph.D., assistant professor and assessment coordinator in the Department of Education; and Babet Villena-Alvarez, Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs (interim) and a professor of French, Spanish and Global Studies at the university.

"To select our standout students, we didn't rely solely on grade point average," Dr. Cavanagh says. "We were looking for a variety of things: obviously to excel in the classroom. But we also took into consideration things like enthusiasm, balance and perhaps showing big improvement over the course of a semester. Or, students who are involved in many different aspects of the USCB community—student groups, academic organizations, community service and more."

The 45 students at the inaugural USCB Standout Student gathering Jan. 23 on the Bluffton Campus were nominated by members of the faculty. At a reception in their honor they were presented with a list of internships, fellowships and other nationally competitive opportunities selected with their academic field of study in mind. The goal, Dr. Hammond says, is to "advance their career by giving them access to scholarships, internships, different ways they can already be involved in their careers soon after graduation. The bottom line is we want to create 45 individual experiences."

One of those individual experiences belongs to Holli Ramirez. She was selected to participate in the 2018 South Carolina Washington Semester Internship Program last fall. The program is conducted annually by the South Carolina Honors College within the University of South Carolina. A senior, she joined a small, select group of students from colleges and universities throughout the state in a semester-long program of college courses and government/organizational internships.

"It's so easy to generate a list of top students based on GPA," Dr. Villena-Alvarez says. "But that does not factor in the grit of the students. There has been so much research about the most successful students when it comes to their careers. It's not so much that they had the highest GPA, they had the grit, the resilience, the follow-through to do every single thing. Hence, the idea of having the faculty nominate the students. That factors in the grit, the resilience and all that, rather than just the GPA."

Future plans call for opening the Standout Student event to all USCB students. "This was just the first go-round for us," Dr. Cavanagh says. "So, we asked the faculty for suggestions about who these students should be. In the future, we plan to open it to all students. This is something we hope to publicize to entice more students to come and get the resources."

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Photo #1: Holli Ramirez pauses during a trip to the Chan Chan Archeological Site in Peru. Ramirez helped to coordinate the visit for the U.S. Ambassador to Peru as part of her duties as an intern in the Executive Office with the U.S. Embassy. The ambassador's visit provided the backdrop to announce a $2.1 million grant to help support recovery efforts following devastating flooding in the northern region of Trujillo, Peru.

Photo #2: Holli Ramirez relaxes on a porch swing after graduating from the University of South Carolina Beaufort with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication last year. Now a contractor, Ramirez hopes to follow in the footsteps of her father as a special agent with the federal government. She was recently selected as a prime example of a USCB Standout Student, one who excelled in academic studies and had the right amount of grit, resilience and follow-through to successfully earn a degree.

About USCB Located in the heart of the Carolina Sea Islands, the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB) is a baccalaureate member of the USC system. Since 2002, USCB has tripled its academic degree programs, doubled its FTE enrollment, opened its first on-campus housing (now serving more than 1,000), and fielded conference and national award-winning Sand Shark athletes in nine sports. The university's three campuses (Beaufort, Bluffton, and Hilton Head Island) serve a diverse student body of 2,116 students. The University of South Carolina Beaufort provides students with an exceptional place to learn and live in an environment focused on growth, preservation and opportunity.

For more information about the University of South Carolina Beaufort, contact Candace Brasseur, senior director of communications, at 843-208-8030 or write