Richard Ramirez – 2011 Fellow

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this area?

I am an associate producer at National Geographic Television working on the show Border Wars. After five years with Teach For America, in the classroom and on the national staff, I left last July to follow a lifelong dream to work in documentary television. I started as an intern with a small production company, and after working on various projects, I had the opportunity to join the National Geographic team.  I am excited by the constant challenges and adaptive nature of the industry that brings the world to our living rooms.

What is your strongest characteristic and how has it assisted you in your career?

My passion and integrity are the driving force in my career path. I believe deeply in the work that I do and am both relentless and fortunate in seeking and finding organizations that align with my personal mission. I am surrounded by colleagues who share my values and passion which increases my desire to excel. I relish challenges and the opportunity to learn from colleagues daily, which pushes me to grow and improve continuously.

Describe three lessons you have learned during your career?

- Be humble - My career is in large part due to the help of others. My mother and the sacrifices of our family keep me grounded and I am constantly reminded of the struggles of other families. I know that no matter how far I go, my main contribution will be in the service of others, helping them to achieve their own goals and dreams.

- Take advantage of opportunities presented to you - Joining Teach For America and moving across the country was a huge risk and a step outside my comfort zone, but it changed my life and was a defining moment.  Rather than go straight from film school to the entertainment industry, I decided to teach in a neighborhood I had never seen. Making an industry contact led me to take another risk and try to see if I would be able to fulfill my dreams of working in film and television. My most challenging and rewarding roles have been those where I was terrified of taking a leap, however, stepping outside of my comfort zone has thus far proven fortuitous.

- Live your passion - I can trace these two careers, film and education, to passions from my youth. This keeps me aligned with who I truly am and what I believe in, which keeps me focused and motivated. Making films with my action figures and devouring every book I could find made me a bit of a nerdy kid, but it was what I loved doing. It was the times I stepped outside of these areas that I didn’t feel like I was becoming a better version of myself.

What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

I like to think of any time that I made a significant difference in the lives of others as a great accomplishment, but one of my proudest moments comes from helping my most challenging student get into a top NY charter school. He was fourteen years old and in the fifth grade, and while others wrote him off, his family and I worked tirelessly to ensure he was successful. This was one of the more difficult times of my life, but seeing him grow and develop into a mature, dedicated, and ambitious teenager was definitely one of the highlights of my career. I can still see his boastful smile as he placed his acceptance letter on my desk one morning at the end of the school year.

What have you learned about politics and civic life through the fellows program?

My key takeaway thus far is that we need to take advantage of every opportunity where we can make a difference in the lives of others. I have learned that I don’t need to constantly try and prove my worth and experience, rather I should be more focused on using my abilities and influence in the benefit of others. Sitting in a room with incredibly successful people who are equally passionate is truly inspiring and I am eager to learn more from my colleagues in the coming months.

What advice would you give someone running for office for the first time?

I don’t believe I am in a place to really give advice to someone running for office, having never done so myself. I believe I would encourage them to stay true to their personal mission which can essentially be applied to all career fields.

What do you do in your free time?

I am constantly trying to learn new things and challenge myself, so I am now in the midst of studying for my New York Tour guide license. Just for fun, I am going neighborhood by neighborhood and exploring the buildings and history of this amazing city which is sometimes taken for granted.