Alum Spotlight: Dr. Natalie Sirisaengtaksin Wins Service & Mentoring Award
By Ashley Kilday and Laura Wagner
Outstanding faculty and impressive alumni are never in short supply at UHD, but they’re not often blood relations. Dr. Natalie Sirisaengtaksin (B.S. Biology, ’08) joined her professor father at UHD and carried the lessons she learned from him (and her UHD professors) to graduate school and her career. Her commitment to service and student support recently earned her the prestigious Melva S. Ramsay Award from her employer, UTHealth Houston.
Dr. Natalie Sirisaengtaksin's “brief detour” from her path to pharmacy school led her to UHD. She had graduated from UT Austin with a degree in Psychology when she enrolled at UHD, where her father (known on campus as Professor Ongard) taught for 28 years. Her goal was to fulfill a few prerequisites, but a microbiology class changed everything. “I fell in love with science,” she said.
Reflecting on her UHD days, Sirisaengtaksin highlighted the exceptional support system she encountered. “The faculty really care about their students and serve as mentors,” she affirmed. “They believed in my potential, and that outside validation gave me the confidence to pursue science and graduate school.” To this day, she maintains relationships with her research mentor and former lab mates.
Photo at left shows Sirisaengtaksin and fellow Gators from the research lab she worked in at UHD at a holiday party (left to right): Laura Lucio, Josie Nava, Sirisaengtaksin, Uffaf Khan, Benedict Khoo, Claudia Jimenez-Lopez.
While working on her doctoral degree in Neuroscience at the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Sirisaengtaksin’s father passed away, but his legacy lived on. As a mentor and advisor to graduate students, Sirisaengtaksin channeled his example and her own positive UHD experience into those interactions. “Being able to offer guidance to younger students and witnessing their growth was and is immensely rewarding,” she said. “My father supported numerous students at UHD, and I aspire to provide the same level of support and the same greatness I experienced myself as a UHD student.”
Sirisaengtaksin continued in the program at UTHealth Houston, eventually earning her doctorate in Neuroscience. She ultimately landed the role of Assistant Director of Academic Affairs at her alma mater, where she routinely has the opportunity to provide support and mentoring to students as well as to her peers.
UTHealth Houston recently acknowledged her efforts with the prestigious Melva S. Ramsay Award, which recognizes exceptional service, unwavering professionalism, and dedication to students, faculty, and staff. “My goal is to make this institution better for everyone,” she said. “The recognition from my peers through this award is truly an honor, and I am immensely grateful to work alongside such an exceptional team.” Her father deserves the credit for her love of service, she added, as he was her first mentor and steered her toward a career dedicated to helping students overcome obstacles.
Photo shows Sirisaengtaksin at the recent Peer-Led Team Learning International Society Conference (PLTLIS) hosted by UHD. Her father was a strong supporter of PLTL throughout his career at UHD, prompting Sirisaengtaksin, her sisters, and her mother to participate in the event. Left to right: Amanda Sirisaengtaksin, Katrina Willard, Noemi Sirisaengtaksin, Natalie Sirisaengtaksin, UHD Professor Mitsue Nakamura, and Kyle Buchan.
To future UHD students, Sirisaengtaksin recommends viewing discomfort as a chance to learn: “UHD felt like home, but I knew I had to leave to expand my horizons,” she said. “Embrace the unknown and step outside your comfort zone.” And echoing her father’s advice to students for nearly three decades, she added, “Encountering setbacks doesn’t equate to failure. It’s about resilience and continuing to move forward.”
We call that Gator grit.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.