Nothing So-So About Marco

Doctoral Student Loves Work With Moms and Infants

Although it may have been difficult for Marco Ramirez Gonzalez to leave Texas and move 2100-plus miles to Washington state to start his PhD in clinical psychology, he had company on the ride: his father, brother, and pit-mix, Canela. After Marco began his research and became acquainted with the other members of his cohort, he said he has finally eased into his graduate program.

Marco came to the US from Mexico when he was five and lived in El Paso, Texas, close to the border. Being surrounded by a friendly, bilingual community made the transition easier, he said. As Marco came of age, his family moved to Houston where he attended Seven Lakes High School, named “Number One Best Public High School in Fort Bend County.” Seven Lakes has nearly 3,600 students, and they are high achieving.  

While discussing his high school days, Marco called himself a “so-so student” and referred to Seven Lakes as “super competitive.” How competitive? Marco graduated with a 4.2 GPA and scored 1390 on the SAT—that competitive. But this humble and hard-working young man held his own at Seven Lakes, and it was there when psychology first piqued his interest.

Marco’s psychology teacher Amy Davis, now retired, often discussed her mentor Philip Zimbardo and his research. Zimbardo, an American psychologist, and emeritus professor from Stanford, is perhaps most well-known for his Stanford prison experiment—a two-week long project that went horribly wrong.

“It was the first time,” Marco said, “I realized I was truly engaged in class.” He also realized how fortunate he was to study under Davis. She and the class had such a positive and lasting impact on Marco that he planned to study psychology at Texas A&M. After completing one year at Blinn College, to boost his GPA, Marco transferred to Texas A&M where opportunities flourished for the multifaceted student.  

Doctoral student and dog
Doctoral student Marco Ramirez Gonzalez, and dog Canela

Because Marco is bilingual, he was offered a translation job in the Development of Mind and Emotions Laboratory under director Dr. Rebecca Brooker. They studied the ways biological and environmental factors influence emotional development in infants by collecting electroencephalogram (EEG) data from a device that measures electrical activity in the brain using small electrodes attached to the scalp. Babies and their mothers participate in different activities, such as a modified version of the marshmallow experiment, the strange situation, and still face paradigms, all under Mom’s watchful eye.

When this initial job ended, the researchers asked Marco if he wanted to stay. He knew there was a long waiting list to get into the lab and that he was loving the work, so he said Yes. In addition to research, Marco became involved in recruiting participants during community events, like “First Fridays,” held at the downtown market, where they talked to mothers and invited them and their babies to participate in the lab.  

At this time, Marco simultaneously collaborated on a project funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development with Dr. Marc Goodrich. This was a study regarding early language and literacy development in elementary-aged bilingual children. Marco traveled to cities across Texas, conducting language and literacy assessments in Title I schools.

It probably comes as no surprise that Marco ’s mentors started nudging him toward applying to PhD programs when he was at Texas A&M. When he realized he could look deeper into the research he so enjoyed, and that earning a PhD would open him up to many more career opportunities, Marco agreed. After looking at other programs, he discovered that the research conducted by Professor Masha Gartstein at Washington State University would be the perfect fit.

Dr. Gartstein serves as the chair of the psychology department at WSU and heads the Infant Temperament Laboratory. She is an expert in clinical developmental psychology, and the research projects she has been involved in have received over $6 million in external grant funding. Gartstein’s interests include child temperament, development psychopathology, the biological underpinnings of temperament, and cross-cultural differences. Her work has even been featured in the 2020 Netflix documentary Babies.

And if the research interests weren’t enough to draw Marco to the Pacific Northwest, and WSU, Associate Vice Provost of Graduate Enrollment Management, Dr. Raymond Herrera, invited him to apply for the Graduate Diversity Assistantship Pathways Program (GDAPP), which aims to increase access and opportunities for domestic students from underrepresented groups. Marco’s GDAPP assistantship, funded through a partnership between the Graduate School and his program, made him part of another community: GDAPP Scholar.

Just as he had predicted, Marco has found that Masha Gartstein is a fantastic mentor who provides him with invaluable support and guidance. He truly enjoys working in the Temperament Lab and interacting with the mothers and babies who participate. Marco said. “Dr. Gartstein enables me to continue building on my knowledge.”

With Canela, the GDAPP community, and a passion for what he’s doing and learning, it sure seems there is nothing so-so about Marco.  

Welcome to the Infant Temperament Lab!