Joel Exebio, Johanna Lopez & Venkataraghavan Ramamoorthy

Degree: Ph.D. in Dietetics & Nutrition

College/School: Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work

When Joel Exebio, Johanna Lopez and Venkataraghavan Ramamoorthy arrived at the FIU Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, they were strangers, each at different stages in their lives. But they had a common goal: to make people’s lives better.

  • Joel, originally from Peru, first came to FIU to earn his master’s degree and then his Ph.D. in dietetics and nutrition. He decided to study nutrition after realizing that current treatments for diabetes mainly focus on the symptoms rather than the causes of disease.
  • Inspired by her grandfather, a chef, Colombian-born Johanna came to FIU to pursue a degree in dietetics and nutrition in order to serve the community in a meaningful, hands-on way.
  • Hailing from India, Venkataraghavan was warmly welcomed at FIU and promptly given the nickname “Ram” by the chair of the Department of Dietetics & Nutrition, Fatma “Rose” Huffman.Ram had long been fascinated by the health sciences because of the potential they have to improve well-being and longevity.

Working together closely while mentored by professors Marianna Baum and Adriana Campa, the three students each faced difficulties in completing their degrees.

While studying for his master’s degree, Joel was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He lost the hearing in his left ear as a result of the operation to remove the growth. It took him a year before he was able to walk and talk again, and it was another year before he was able to return to his studies.

After entering the Ph.D. program, Joel received the news that his father had been diagnosed with liver cancer. So he made the decision to put his studies on hold to go back to Peru and spend time with him, during the time he had left.

When Joel returned, the students and faculty of FIU were there, ready to help him get back to his studies. As fellow immigrants with no relatives in this country, and with the career goals in mind, Ram and Johanna became Joel’s family. They kept each other motivated and on track. Whenever one of them wanted to quit, the other two talked sense into them.

After graduation, Joel, Ram and Johanna each plan to pursue careers related to treating and preventing chronic diseases. Johanna is currently in the process of being hired at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Crohn’s & Colitis Center as a clinical and research dietitian, while Joel and Ram are looking forward to research positions studying diseases such as HIV, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

They plan to stay in touch, as well.