Career Ladder: Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse | February 5, 2018 Issue - Vol. 96 Issue 6 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 96 Issue 6 | p. 27
Issue Date: February 5, 2018

Career Ladder: Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse

This former pharma chemist got back to her roots at the only school on the Hawaiian island of Lanai
By Melissa Gilden
Department: Career & Employment
Keywords: Career ladder, employment, Michelle Ramirez-Weinhouse, Lanai
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Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse (right) and her older sister Renee.
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse
A photo of Michele and her sister as children in the 1960s.
 
Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse (right) and her older sister Renee.
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse

1960s
Early focus on education

 

Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse was raised between California, the Philippines, and the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Her father was a marine machinist with the civil service and her mother was a homemaker. Although she did not have an early interest in chemistry, Ramirez-Weinhouse knew from a young age she was college bound. “College was always important to my parents,” she remembers. “It was never an if, just when and where.” Ramirez-Weinhouse would eventually fulfill her parents’ dream—becoming the first in her family to graduate from college.

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Michele with colleagues in the lab at Pfizer.
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse
A photo of Michele in a lab coat and goggles with similarly dressed colleagues on either side.
 
Michele with colleagues in the lab at Pfizer.
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse

1988
Late start in chemistry

 

Ramirez-Weinhouse began her studies at Southwestern College, a community college in Chula Vista, Calif., without a particular academic focus in mind. But when a classmate in her chemistry class suggested she continue studying it, she took the idea to heart. A college counselor encouraged her to apply to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1988. It never came easy, Ramirez-Weinhouse says, but she was fascinated by chemistry “because it was hard” and because it required perseverance. After college, Ramirez-Weinhouse began her career at Scripps Research Institute, followed by several start-up biotech companies. Eventually, she landed a job at Pfizer and spent the next eight years as an organic synthetic chemist working on the design and synthesis of anticancer and antiviral candidates.

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Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse
Photo of Michele on a boat with water and the island in the background.
 
Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse

2010
A new start, by force

 

Ramirez-Weinhouse grew to love working as a chemist, and she thrived in a high-tech environment with knowledgeable colleagues. However, like many industry scientists during the economic downturn, Ramirez-Weinhouse was laid off in 2010. It was depressing, she says. “It’s hard to be told that you can’t do it anymore.” Her husband encouraged her to do something on Lanai, the island that she has always considered home. “I think you’d make a really good teacher,” she remembers him saying. Ramirez-Weinhouse earned her teaching certificate, and she and her husband moved to Lanai.

Today
Life on Lanai

 

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Michele performing at Halau Hula O Malulani hula school in San Diego.
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse
Michele performing hula in an authentic costume and headdress.
 
Michele performing at Halau Hula O Malulani hula school in San Diego.
Credit: Courtesy of Michele Ramirez-Weinhouse

Eight years later, Ramirez-Weinhouse is now a sixth-grade science teacher at the only school on an island of 3,000 people with no traffic lights. As a teacher, Ramirez-Weinhouse is passionate about preserving Hawaiian culture and connecting it to science; she describes a lab relating hula to the water cycle. Many of her students are not native English speakers and have limited proficiency. “When they don’t have a lot, they’re great problem solvers.” That’s part of what makes this second career so rewarding, she says, and it’s safe to say she has no regrets. “Everything I’ve done in my career has led me to where I am now.”


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Comments
Leila (Tue Feb 06 01:48:05 EST 2018)
I have known Michele since high school. She has always been a very conscientious student and a wonderful friend! I am so proud of her and all she’s accomplished!
Heather Whaling Grettenberger (Fri Feb 09 10:38:56 EST 2018)
I knew Michele from her early years at start ups in Sorrento Valley business section of San Diego CA and Pfizer. I got the privilege of working with her and socializing with her after hours. We did many off-roading bike rides, 5k runs and social events. She is amazing! She has always been full of energy and encouraging to be around. Hats off to you Michele as you touch all those around you for the better! PS My oldest daughter is preparing to go into Chemical Engineering!

Martha Ornelas (Wed Aug 08 17:19:56 EDT 2018)
I am so proud of you my friend!

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