Faculty Focus: Professor Helps Students Find Purpose, Opportunity
By Indira Zaldivar & Edward Saenz, The Dateline
Dr. Anthony Ramirez is a new, award-winning Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at UHD and a longtime comic books fan, researcher and artist. At UHD, Ramirez also serves as the new Assistant Director of the Center for Latino Studies.
“UHD reminds me of home in El Paso, Texas,” said the El Paso native. “The students remind me of people I grew up with, and that makes me feel comfortable.”
Despite joining the UHD faculty only a year ago, he’s been recognized for “Excellence in Teaching and Mentorship,” awarded by the Latina/Latino Communication Studies Division and La Raza Caucus of the National Communications Association in late September. The letter notifying him of his award stated, “Your ability to search for and provide opportunities for collaboration and proactively encourage the growth and interests of your students through many areas intersecting critical cultural communication and LatinX theories, popular culture, race, and ethnicity, border studies and the politics of representation certainly deserve recognition.”
“The students are the reason why I’m here and why I love this job,” Ramirez said.
His excellence in teaching could very well be because in the classroom, Ramirez turns into a “goofball.” By making silly voices, throwing and receiving sarcasm, and telling personal stories that relate to class topics, he aims to build rapport with his students.
Rapport “creates that relatability factor to show, ‘Hey, I'm a human, too, I make mistakes, or I've gone through different experiences,’” Ramirez said. “Hopefully, you can learn from these mistakes, or you can learn from these experiences that can help you, not just in the classroom, but outside the classroom as well.”
To prepare students to pursue their own meaningful purpose, Ramirez prompts students to “think creatively and critically” through class assignments. The end goal with every assignment is to inspire students in the process of narration and storytelling while simultaneously building a portfolio of projects from different communication mediums such as podcasts, comic books, videos, and presentations.
“A lot of them tell me, ‘Oh, I can’t draw; I can’t tell a story,’” Ramirez said. “But by the end of that assignment, they're like, ‘Oh, man, I can do a lot more than I thought.’”
For Ramirez, the students are the biggest reason why he aspired to become a professor and to create comfortable atmospheres in the classrooms. To maintain that “excellence in teaching,” he strives to be better and learn from student’s feedback.
“I always tell [the students] that they're the ones that pay me,” Ramirez added. “Your tuition pays me, and so I need to give you your money's worth. If they feel like I don’t give them their money’s worth, tell me so I can know what I can do to be better.”
Before landing his beloved teaching career at UHD, Ramirez obtained a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and a master’s degree from UT-El Paso. After researching Latinx representation in pop culture and media during his master’s, he decided to unite his passions for comic books, Latin identity, and the US-Mexico border in his Ph.D. dissertation.
While the research project started with 13 books that focused on intersectional subject matter, he was happy he could find and add more diverse comic books to the list, books that will form part of lifelong projects he envisions completing, such as literary analyses, discussions, books, presentations, podcasts, and various projects with the Center for Latino Studies, to name a few.
This award-winning passion for researching Latinx representation in popular culture and media stemmed from his love for cartoons, comic books, and reading as a kid. After seeing the cartoon “Batman: The Animated Series,” his mom took Ramirez comic-book shopping to get him to read, as is the custom in his family of educators. However, the Mexican American professor questioned the lack of representation of Latino characters in comic books.
“As I got older, I started to ask myself, ‘where are these Latino and Hispanic characters” Ramirez said. “I never see a character that looks like me.”
It wasn’t until encountering comic book character Jaime Reyes, famously known as Blue Beetle, that the El Paso native felt represented in a comic book character. About the praised movie “Blue Beetle,” which makes references to Latinidad and pop culture and media, Ramirez says he is appreciative of "how inclusive it was towards all cultures and backgrounds of Latino descent.”
Whether students identify as Latino/a/e or another way, he encourages students to embrace diversity and the unique complexities of individuals, as the world is becoming increasingly diverse.
“As individuals, we're all different, unique or special in our own different ways,” Ramirez said. “We have to learn to respect and appreciate each other's differences instead of bringing each other down.”
For students interested in joining a welcoming space for Latino identity and culture, the new assistant director welcomed students to join the rebuilding initiatives of the Center for Latino Studies. The Center brought back Latinfest on Oct. 25 to celebrate the diverse culture of Latin America with performances by UHD organizations and guest performances.
The best advice he can give to students about embracing identity and being successful is to find their passion. “Because if you’re passionate about something, that’s where your identity really shines.”
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.