By Tom Feran, The Plain Dealer 

PARMA HEIGHTS, Ohio — Maria Ramos ranks first in her class at Holy Name High School, a position she has maintained for four years with a grade-point average above 4.5. She has earned numerous scholarships and academic honors.

But the 17-year-old from Independence also exemplifies the adage that much of life’s education takes place outside the classroom.
As a junior, she was one of 50 area students selected for the Cleveland Leadership Center’s year-long “Look Up to Cleveland” leadership program. It took her inside such places as Cleveland City Hall and the Federal Reserve Bank, introduced her to movers and shakers, and fired her interest in bolstering the city’s standing as a prosperous and exciting place.
“I’m really looking forward to what Cleveland is becoming,” she said. “It’s a medical and science hub. The hospitals are insanely good.”
Maria’s interest in those fields was deepened by what she calls her “summer I’ll never forget” last year in the Cleveland Clinic’s selective science internship program.

Typically, she thrived on the “vacation” schedule of leaving for South Pointe Hospital after 6 each morning, while also working at her year-round clerical job at Northeast Surgical Associates.

She now is counting down the days until she starts classes at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. She hasn’t picked her major, but the sciences are favorite subjects, and her plan is to go on to medical school and become a pediatrician.
She has prepped for that, too, as a babysitter since seventh grade.
For all of her achievements, however, “Maria’s truly remarkable acts have come in the community,” said her guidance counselor, Jason Gerrick. “Volunteer and community work provided Maria with opportunities to help others and give something back.”
She has volunteered for four years at the food kitchen at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Ohio City, serving dinners and washing dishes — and where she heard about a program sending boxes of toiletries to U.S. soldiers abroad.
Wanting to do something locally, Maria co-founded Shoeboxes for Souls, a service project that buys and bundles personal items for the men sheltered at St. Herman’s House of Hospitality.
She has tutored elementary school students and underclassmen at Holy Name, and has been an enthusiastic weekly volunteer for four years at Red Circle Lanes, assisting the disabled adults who bowl there.
“It’s an amazing experience — I love doing it,” she said.
With a range of interests as wide as her smile, she has resumed the art lessons she started at 10, working in charcoal and pastels. While she’s “not a jock,” she has played volleyball and intramural basketball.
She credits the support of her parents, Fred and Cheryl Ramos, for what she has accomplished, and the admired example of her older brother, Michael.
“The harder you work,” she said, “the more opportunity you have.”
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: thomas, 216-999-6251