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Rita Ruiz.

Strong family ties and an ethic of serving others motivate Rita Ruiz, who is a CLA mentor.

Putting ethic into action

UMAA member profile: Rita Ruiz

By Cynthia Scott

From M Summer 2006

Rita Ruiz's parents didn't send her off to the University of Minnesota--they came with her. Eight years ago the entire family--Rita, her older brother Mario Jr., and parents Maria and Mario Sr.--pulled up stakes from their home in Brownsville, Texas, and moved to the Twin Cities so that Rita and her brother could study at the University. After graduating with a degree in Spanish, Ruiz (B.A. '04) is midway through her master's degree program in criminal justice leadership at Concordia University in St. Paul and has her sights on a career with the FBI.

Strong family ties are one of the reasons that Ruiz flourished at the University. She credits her father, who holds a master's from a university in his native Mexico, with instilling in her the value of education. It was he who insisted that Rita and her brother learn proper Spanish. "My parents were from Mexico and were raised speaking, reading, and hearing Spanish all the time, but we didn't really know how to write it. My dad is the type of person who says 'if you're going to do something in a language, you have to know it correctly,'" Ruiz says.

Her father continues to be a driving force in Ruiz's life. "All the effort that he had to make just to finish his career after he had a family to support, and still he never gave up," Ruiz says. Today, Ruiz lives in St. Paul with her parents while she continues her studies and works full time as a legal assistant at Centro Legal, a St. Paul-based advocacy organization for Hispanics in Minnesota. There, she directs a workshop that trains clients how to use conciliation courts and works on a wide variety of projects within the family law unit, including developing a crisis phone line. She is also a mentor through the College of Liberal Arts (CLA).

Ruiz decided to serve in the CLA mentor program last fall because she was eager to help someone else succeed at the University. Her first mentee, Christina Davenport, will be attending law school in the fall. Through the mentorship program, Ruiz introduced Davenport to Centro Legal's Latina Leadership Institute, where Davenport became a volunteer.

Ruiz was recently named to the board of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, a statewide membership organization that advocates for battered women and their children. She views it as yet another opportunity to put her ethic of serving others into action. Born of her upbringing, it's an ethic that grounds and motivates her.

"I was raised with the belief that you always have to be respectful of everybody else, and you always have to be willing to give a lending hand because you might have something that the other person might not have," Ruiz says. "But at the same time, the other person might have something that you don't have. Everybody is the same at the end of the day."