Skip to content

Conversation with Dr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares on Family History, Catholic Schooling, Being Alone, Mathematics, Bioengineering, and Gifted Identification: Former Governor, Puerto Rico (1)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2021/02/22


Ricardo Rosselló Nevares holds a PhD in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. He graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering with a concentration in Developmental Economics. Rosselló continued his academic studies at the University of Michigan, where he completed a master’s degree and a PhD in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. After finalizing his doctoral studies, he completed post-doctoral studies in neuroscience at Duke University, in North Carolina, where he also served as an investigator. Dr. Rossello was a tenure track assistant professor for the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus and Metropolitan University, teaching courses in medicine, immunology, and biochemistry. Dr. Rossello’s scientific background and training also makes him an expert in important developing areas such as genetic manipulation and engineering, stem cells, viral manipulation, cancer, tissue engineering and smart materials. He discusses: the family history; Catholic schools running through kindergarten through high school; earliest stages of being alone as a child; bioengineering as a path in education; and formal tests.

Keywords: bioengineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, University of Michigan.

Conversation with Dr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares on Family History, Catholic Schooling, Being Alone, Mathematics, Bioengineering, and Gifted Identification: Former Governor, Puerto Rico (1)

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, superhero movies are very popular now. So, I want to ask, “What is your origin story?”

Dr. Ricardo Rosselló[1],[2]*: [Laughing].

Jacobsen: Some of the family history, as with any historical process, how this led to your coming into being.

Rosselló: When I was a little kid, I had parents that were loving, caring. I was the youngest of three children. I was not necessarily planned for. I came a little bit after the others. Even though I was the smallest of three, I had two worlds.

I was treated as a young child, but was a lonely child, the anomaly child. After that, I had some moments or certain moments creating the person who I am right now. I would say one of them was a pretty serious surgery when I was young. I had to be taken off school for a while.

I had two very complicated kidney surgeries when I was about 8 or 9. So, I mentioned that before because when I was in school in kindergarten, first grade, second grade. I had a hard time fitting in. One time, I went to Catholic school. When they were teaching us to write our name, I would write my name from the center on outwards.

I would take two pencils and start the first letter of my last name with my right and the last letter of my first name with my left. I would then expand outward. Instead of seeing that as sort of a novelty or, at least, a neat parlour trick, they thought there was something wrong with me.

I had to partake in writing lessons, writing calligraphy. It was pretty rudimentary because I was ambidextrous. They, essentially, had to tie a pencil to one of my hands, so I would only use my right hand. That was one of the moments.

I would say like that. I can share other stories. There were unique challenging moments where I had this mix of feeling I had to overcome big obstacles and then enjoying afterwards. It was not until a little bit later that they figured out; I was not possessed.

Jacobsen: Ha!

Rosselló: Or had severe learning disabilities, but that I had a higher IQ, that started changing things. Another story parallel to that, because of this apprehension in the get-go, I didn’t really get into math. I thought I was very bad at mathematics.

Kids that go to these sorts of events start preparing and training from the very early get-go. For my case, I can clearly state that I didn’t get into mathematics or had any interest up until the first two months of 9th grade, where I had a serendipitous event.

One teacher can change the life of a person. I had this one teacher. For some reason, I fell into the advanced mathematic class. Even though, I was horrible. This guy was notorious for calling out people. He was a guy who trains mathletes.

When I came in, he didn’t feel like I belonged there. So, he picked on me. My first reaction was to sit in the back and not say anything, to blend in and move by; one day, he put this math problem on the board for people to solve. He picked on me.

I was afraid. I went up there. I solved it. It was not a technical mathematical problem. It was IMO, the International Mathematical Olympiad, type of problem and took a hold of it. He sat me down and said, “We have this math club. I would like you to come by.”

To me, it was completely surreal. I had no business. I really had big lagoons on basic mathematical operations, and so forth. But the long story short. Through high school, I was able to thrive on that.

One of the first people from Puerto Rico to ever get to the International Mathematical Olympiad. It was really that serendipitous moment in time, where I was really just flowing by, playing sports, and doing that sort of thing, not focusing on my intellectual development.

Thanks to that sort of intervention, it geared me into a more academic route towards the future. I think those are a few of the events. So, it is serendipity combined with bad luck that just turned out in a positive way.

Jacobsen: Were these Catholic schools running through kindergarten through high school?

Rosselló: Yes, back home in Puerto Rico, the education system is really unequal. Over here in the States, right now, for example, I have my kids in public school. These public schools are just as good as private schools.

There are certain tangential things that you can add on the private side, but in terms of looking at how the kids succeed, enter college, and have opportunities; it is pretty much evened out. In Puerto Rico, it is completely the opposite.

If you went to a private school, the chances of going to college were 95%. If you went to a public school, obviously, as kids drop out and so forth, taking the basis as kids that enter the public school and kids that leave, then about 2% to 3% of them get to college.

So, it was a very different mindset. My parents, my dad is a physician turned politician afterwards. My mom, she was social services and psychologist. They put a big value on education and having the opportunities to move forward.

Jacobsen: You were mentioning various earliest stages of being alone as a child. Was this common even as you went into adolescence?

Rosselló: It is very common. I think I had those two compartmentalized – personalities if you will. It sounds awful. This very introspective persona that I have. Even though, I was the youngest. Again, my older brothers were adolescents when I was born.

I played with myself. I did all those things. When I had to go to the hospital for a year, it was a lot of internal mental games and thought experiments that I had to go through. I tried many sports. The one I really enjoyed was tennis. The one I thrived at was tennis.

It was largely because it was very individualistic. I would say that embedded in my DNA is that need. Even to this day, I can do tasks. I can do certain things with people around me, and learn to enjoy it.

But if I am going to do anything that I think is meaningful or creative, then I need to – literally – be closed up in a room to think about these things. The other part involved is the more public persona. I don’t know if I have given it a lot of thought.

I don’t know if it because of the lack thereof that I had in the onset or not, but I do enjoy being with people, working with people. It is trying to rationalize this dichotomy. I think it was (former) President Bill Clinton who said, ‘If you’re an extrovert, then when you’re around people; you get more energy. When you’re an introvert, you expend the energy.’

While I enjoyed it, every time that I had these big activities and so forth. It would take a physical toll on me. I think there is this space – I don’t want to say, “Loneliness,” but a very introspective space that I still need to function. Otherwise, I feel things around me start crumbling.

Jacobsen: Why did you pick bioengineering as a path in education?

Rosselló: These are other stories in the making.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rosselló: When I was a little kid, when everybody wanted to be a police officer and a fireman, and so forth, I wanted to be a bioengineer. The reason: Since I was a kid, there were second-generation G.I. Joe toys called Cobra-La.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rosselló: They were bioengineered supervillains. Obviously, the superheroes came along with them. I was fascinated by being able to engineer one’s biology. Not simply on the engineering end of cars and so on, but one’s biology.

When I was a very young kid, my dad gave me a few books to read and pick my imagination, Brave New World, which would tap into things that were obvious. But when I was growing up, we were just tapping into it.

That kind of faded into the background. I don’t know. I lost my way there. I was bouncing from thing to thing. All of the sudden, when I went to college, I chose at random, by the way. [Laughing] When I was deciding on what colleges to apply, when the day came to decide, I didn’t really know.

In my internal setting, it was between Princeton, MIT, and Wharton. I thought that I wanted to study business at one point, that’s why Wharton was there. I just left it up to chance. Luckily, for me, I picked MIT.

I really enjoyed my experience there. When I got there, I had no idea what I wanted to do. The MIT platform allows you to navigate freely for about a year-and-a-half before you know what you want to do.

I started looking at engineering. Within engineering, chemical engineering, once you start getting more specialized, I reconnected with the idea of biology and looking at biological systems to essentially enhance our humanity.

It would be medicine or tackling diseases. The way I see it. I used the engineering concepts to try to grasp what was occurring within biology. So, that’s the first Newtonian step. Once you’re there, you realize there’s a lot more complexity. I think it is a beautiful thing about biology and bioengineering.

Essentially, that’s how I had a primitive urge when I was 4-years-old. That dissipated and, somehow, I found my way, again, into it.

Jacobsen: When you’re going through university education, high school education, were there any formal tests to identify, “Oh, he’s a gifted kid”?

Rosselló: Yes, I took the Stanford-Binet. At that point, for some reason, the mentality is very different. I’m sure you’ve encountered this. They would tell the parents. Don’t let the kid know, don’t make him feel different, my parents always treated me as a smart kid.

So, there was no real change. Obviously, when I took that exam, they saw that there was more potential. The immediate aftermath of that was that they expected more of me [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Rosselló: I was cruising along getting the bare minimums. They were very happy when things jelled with the mathematics part of it because it was something that was of interest. I had a very hard time finding anything to read that was interesting to me.

My dad in 4th or 5th grade,  when I couldn’t concentrate or find anything interesting, would give me these little booklets. I remember one was A Brief History of Time. That was by Stephen Hawking and really grabbed my attention.

He started getting me books in cosmology and astrophysics because it was really the only thing I kind of veered towards or had any interest in reading. There was that. Then there was at the University of Michigan, when I was doing my Ph.D. There was another test.

It was the Cattell test. They were doing these trilingual brain studies. They wanted to see what areas of the brain would light up. You had to have a certain minimum IQ score for that. I took that one as well.

Those were the first two indications. One was at some point in the intermediate school and then the other one was more in graduate school.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Former Governor, Puerto Rico.

[2] Individual Publication Date: February 22, 2021:; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2021:

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: