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At RIC’s baccalaureate commencement, Esther Quiroz Santos, 21, a Psychology and Justice Studies major, graduated with summa cum laude honors alongside her mother, Ramona Santos, 41, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Social Work with cum laude honors.

For both women it was a proud family moment.

“It’s been hard for my mom to go to work full-time, take college classes and care for me and my younger sister,’’ Quiroz Santos said. “She’s done a very good job of juggling all those things. I’m so proud of her, and I believe she’s proud of me because she knows I try my best.’’

Aside from when she gave birth to her two children, Ramona Santos described commencement as the most emotional day of her life. “It’s emotional because not only am I furthering my education, I am watching Esther accomplish so much, so young. As a parent, it brings a lot of joy and is almost surreal to witness that.’’

Santos said, without Esther, she wouldn’t have been able to finish college because Esther’s done so much of the caregiving for her younger daughter, who is autistic with special needs.

“Esther is like a second mom to her,’’ she said. “She has stepped up to the plate, working part-time, being a full-time student and taking care of her little sister. She deserves a million dollars. I thank God for her.’’

Santos said she will continue in her position as an education specialist with the nonprofit Parent Support Network of RI, working with parents of children with special needs like herself. Santos is also chair of the Family Engagement Advisory Board Council, a state entity created in 2012 to advise the commissioner of education, board of education and the governor on matters of family engagement.

Quiroz Santos credits her mentors at RIC for opening her eyes to research opportunities. “In the spring semester of my freshman year, I performed well in a research methods course so my professor recruited me to work in her lab,’’ she said.

As a research assistant in the RIC Infant and Child Lab, Quiroz Santos tested 12- to 20-month-old infants on early language comprehension using a Tobii Eye Tracking System. She analyzed data, recruited participants and presented her research findings at several professional conferences, including on three occasions at the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program funded by the Rhode Island IDeA Network for Excellence in Biomedical Research (INBRE) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
 
An honors thesis that took Quiroz Santos two years to create stands out as her crowning achievement at RIC, she said. Titled “The Attitudinal Support for Three Social Movements,’’ the thesis examined public opinion toward Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter movements from the perspective of Terror Management Theory. Her findings showed that the Black Lives Matter movement received overwhelming support.

This fall, Quiroz Santos will enter the University of Rhode Island’s doctoral program in clinical psychology.

She said she will never forget the support of her RIC mentors, singling out professors Beverly Goldfield, David Sugarman and Jayson Spas. “I believe RIC doesn’t get enough credit for the opportunities it affords to students,’’ she said. “It’s all about seeking out those opportunities, because they are here. My mentors supported just about anything and everything. I don’t think I could have done any better as an undergrad if I had gone to college anywhere else.’’

A Ronald McNair Scholar, Quiroz Santos served as president of the Psychology Society and Psi Chi. She earned the Victoria Lederberg Psychology Award and the Mary Ann Hawkes Award in Justice Studies. She was also selected by the college’s Psychology Department to receive a RIC Alumni Honor Roll Scholarship.

The Providence Journal featured Ramona Santos and Esther Quiroz Santos in an article here​.