Alexander Ramos '15 on Learning to Challenge Himself

Sara Jacobson

Purdue graduate Alexander Ramos '15 has come a long way since he tore his ACL while playing soccer during sophomore year. At that point in his academic career, his grades were dropping and school couldn’t seem to hold his interest.

“The ones who don’t care about the readings, the assignments—that was me,” Ramos says.

The Uber of Ride Sharing

This comment seems somewhat incredible when you consider both his degree and how he spent his free time at Purdue these past few years: Shrugging their shoulders at opportunities for parties and sporting events, Ramos and two classmates spent Friday nights dreaming, planning, and experimenting until they launched a startup called UniShare, all while maintaining solid grades.

“[UniShare is] a campus business with multiple arms to help college students save money, save time, and even make a little extra cash on the side,” Ramos explains.

While the company started with a laundry service based on the Uber model—students needing extra cash get paid to do laundry for those needing extra time—UniShare hit its sweet spot when Alex’s co-founder, Zurum Okereke, got frustrated trying to coordinate a ride back home to the East Coast; the friends saw a problem and knew there had to be a solution.

The students developed an investor presentation that procured $20,000 in seed money to create a ride sharing app, UniRide. University students can arrange rides, order snack boxes and even enable tracking for parents to check traveler progress without constantly texting or calling (a function appreciated by parents and students alike).

So what happened to move Ramos towards this point?

Someone challenged his view of himself. And then he took advantage of opportunities that had always been there.

A Perspective Shift Changes His Trajectory

“I had never thought of myself as someone who could achieve excellence,” Ramos shares. But when classmate Olivia West tore her ACL just a few weeks after Ramos, the two ended up in physical therapy at MA together. Over many afternoons regaining knee function, West challenged Ramos to put some effort into his intellectual growth.

“Why don’t I see what happens if I try?” Ramos asked himself.

He signed up for AP classes, including the daunting AP Physics. He worked to pull his GPA up. He participated in class. He started considering universities and degrees that had never been on his radar.

Ramos says that up to this point he had seen "the smart kids," the ones that participate, the ones that always found their way to the stage during awards assemblies, as somehow "other" than himself. They seemed to him like specific type of cookie-cutter individual, and he didn't fit that shape.

As West challenged him, though, he began to see the broad range of personalities, backgrounds, and individuals who were accomplishing big academic goals, and their perceived flatness rounded out into a diversity he realized he could be part of. 

"I didn’t feel like I could be part of that hard studying group until suddenly I felt like they were just like me," he says,"and then two years later I was in AP physics."

How to Think

He also took seriously a lesson woven through his MA courses, from physics to Senior Capstone: “MA taught me to think a little longer,” Ramos says. He learned to question his first responses to information or situations and look for other possibilities, to not just "think twice, but three times and then again" before developing a conclusion. He started watching for connections between seemingly unrelated things to explore their possible impact on outcomes—both skills that played heavily into his degree and his work on UniShare.

From here Ramos plans to take a year off to work and then head into business school in preparation for future entrepreneurial endeavors. When looking at where he is today, he gives a solid nod to the challenge of a friend and a community that helped him think just a little longer and little harder about the world around him.

“I think [that mindset] is one of the greatest things MA could have given me.”


Place of Influence: Purdue University

Role: Co-founder of start-up UniShare

Degree: B.S., Material Science and Engineering

Biggest MA Takeaway: Recognizing that he had potential if he would just put in the effort in. Learning to see things from multiple view points.

Advice to Current Students: Move in some direction. Just don’t be still. It doesn’t matter if you move with the current or against it because you will come to a better place when you just do it.

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