Alumna finds strength in community to succeed

November 15, 2016 | George Mattingly II

Karina Ramos

UHCL alumna Karina Ramos was recognized as the Outstanding Student in Digital Media Studies by faculty in the College of Human Sciences and Humanities in April 2016 before graduating from the program in May.

University of Houston Clear Lake alumna Karina Ramos recently began work on her doctoral degree in Denton, Texas. In the midst of packing, traveling and spending time with family, Ramos took a moment to reflect. Her parents came to the United States on a work visa in the early 2000s, and brought her and her brother for better educational opportunities, a decision that has impacted her life in many ways.

Growing up was not always easy for Ramos. There were not many resources for her education along the way. Although she and her family breathed a sigh of relief when they arrived in the U.S., there were new obstacles to meet when she first arrived at UHCL as an undergraduate student. Like many students, she felt intimidated by the college experience.

“I didn’t know what I wanted,” she said. “I was literally walking into the college experience blind.”

This is because unlike most students, Ramos was born legally blind.

Ramos’ father, Luis Ramos, graduated from UHCL in 2005 with his Master of Science in Educational Management. The familiarity of the university combined with the proximity to home made UHCL a confident choice for both her and her brother, Luis.

“My brother is also legally blind, so my parents came to the U.S. to help us. Even with our disability, college was never an option; they always pushed us and never let up,” she said with a laugh.

Ramos began work on her Bachelor of Arts in Literature in 2008. Along with the stress of balancing tests, homework and finances, Ramos had to seek help with taking notes and getting accessible text, as well as working with new technology, adding more hours of work and studying.

The combination of these challenges can be overwhelming for some students with disabilities, the biggest of which can be simply asking for help.

“There are a lot of students with disabilities who come out of high school not knowing of the changes coming when they attend a university,” said Gavin Steiger, director of the UHCL Disability Services office, which provides students equal access to the university. “Here, it’s up to the student to self-identify, communicate needs to faculty, and communicate their needs to disability services. There’s a lot more responsibility on the student.”

There are currently about 234 self-identified students with disabilities at UHCL, a number that has steadily risen over the last four years, said Steiger. Their disabilities range from neurological, mental health, physical and chronic medical conditions as well as learning disabilities.

Ramos said some of her biggest allies were staff members in the Disability Services office. They helped her track down her textbooks in electronic format for easier access and reading, administered tests for her on a computer and coordinated with faculty to provide accommodations for notetaking in class.

“They were a huge help,” Ramos said. “The office helped me mediate with my professors to make my courses and tests more accessible with their services.”

Steiger said Ramos’ self-awareness gave her the strength to meet her roadblocks head-on.

“She knew how her condition affected her and she knew that she needed to get access to resources,” Steiger said. “She would always let us know what she needed and what was wrong. She was very good about advocating for herself.”

Ramos was later featured in the office’s instructional videos to teach other students how to use UHCL’s closed-circuit television (CCTV), an electronic magnifier used by students with a visual impairment to read documents and books, and to write.

“It feels great to know that I am an influence in helping others. I’m proud to know that more students will benefit from my experiences,” she said.

After graduating from UHCL with a Master of Arts in Literature in 2012, Ramos’ career path took a new turn for a chance at more job opportunities. She began work on her Master of Arts in Digital Media Studies at UHCL. The program focuses on giving students the knowledge and skills to produce content for print, web, video, software and other applications that are optimized for the visual world.

For Ramos, the program’s core focus on creating visual products presented a new set of challenges, and it wasn’t long before self-doubt crept up.

“There were definitely times when I thought I didn’t know what I was doing because there were so many students more experienced than me. I was also nervous about working with my disability and all the visual aspects of digital media.”

However, Ramos again found support from within the UHCL community.

“My professors have played a large part in my success by always being patient and making me feel comfortable approaching them to ask questions.”

Lecturer of Communication and Digital Media Studies Anne Henry recalls Ramos’ work ethic in her classes.

“When Karina saw a barrier she always found a way to work around it,” Henry said. “It wasn’t a chore for her, she was always excited to use new technology. When you have someone in your class that is so positive, it’s motivating and inspiring for me as an educator.”

In the end, Ramos’ resilience paid off. She was honored as the Outstanding Digital Media Studies Student by the College of Human Sciences and Humanities before graduating from the program in May.

Now, Ramos is walking confidently into her future. She is working on her Doctor of Philosophy in Learning Technologies at the University of North Texas. The program focuses on using technology in the learning process, which will allow Ramos to help others like her.

“While at UHCL, I fell in love with working with the software and programs in digital media,” she said. “With my Ph.D., I want to do more to make these programs and video games more accessible to people with disabilities. I want to give back. A lot of people have done things to help me, and I want to pay it forward with my work.”

For 40 years, UH-Clear Lake has empowered individuals to find their passion and pursue their goals. This #UHCLempowered profile series celebrates the students, alumni, faculty and staff who impact their communities and the world. Follow the #UHCLempowered hashtag on social media to learn more about how the university is changing lives.

To empower the next generation of UHCL students, find out how you can support the university at For more about the university, visit


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