“It meant so much to learn the scholarship was in Elena Poniatowska’s name because of what she represents. My father, who is an avid reader and lives in Mexico, had told me recently that simply meeting her was already an honor,” said Ruiz afterward. “I also share a passion for literature and social activism, so when I learned about this, I felt very humbled because her work is so moving and it hits close to home.”
Ruiz, 23, graduated from high school in 2006, and she always knew she wanted to get a college education. “My route was a little unorthodox,” she said. “Instead of starting college right away, I started working, and even when I started college, I would take semesters off to work because sometimes helping my family took priority.”
Ruiz worked at the NHU library as one of her jobs and was encouraged by faculty members to apply and complete her studies there. Ruiz, who had taken some community college classes, said that she was drawn to the familia approach at NHU, which entails small classes and a collaborative yet demanding environment to succeed. While working in the NHU library, she also read several of Poniatowska’s books along with other literary giants such as Gabriel García Márquez, Amado Nervo, Pablo Neruda and Octavio Paz.
“I was already driven and working really hard, but the challenge from my professors really took me to the next level,” she said.
For example, Ruiz said that she took a class with NHU adjunct faculty member Nannette Regua, who encouraged her and another student to give a presentation at a national conference. Regua worked with the two students after school hours, helping them refine their research on the changing roles of Mexican-American women in the 20th century. She also helped them with fundraising for travel expenses so they could present their work at the 2009 National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies conference in New Brunswick, N.J.
“Professor Regua, like other professors at NHU, believed in us,” said Ruiz. “She took us under her wing and guided us through a process that was new to me, which was preparing for a conference. Along with this recent accomplishment, it remains one of the highlights of my undergraduate career at NHU.”
Ruiz said the $5,000 Elena Poniatowska Civic Leadership Scholarship will help her finish the school year as she plans the next step in her education: graduate school. She has her eye on several prominent Bay Area schools and is considering studying journalism, education or the law. All are fields she believes that will provide her with opportunities to pursue her interest in social justice issues.