Victor Ruiz, a senior systems engineering major at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has a lot to be thankful for. He’s a U.S. Air Force veteran with a beautiful wife and two young daughters. Now in his last semester as a systems engineering major, Ruiz is looking forward to a future career where he explores his passion for renewable energy.
“As the world gets bigger, and there are more homes and buildings built that use more computers, lights, and phones, energy consumption will continue to boom,” he said. “I think people need to be educated more and learn to save what we have left on this world. People always assume energy is free and we can keep producing as much as we want at no cost, but it’s not the case.”
A native of San Leandro, California, Ruiz graduated high school in 2006 and worked in an auto parts store “until a 6-foot, 6-inch mountain of a man walked into my auto parts store dressed in crisp Air Force Blues uniform and said, ‘Son, I am about to save your life.’”
At 18, Ruiz joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base. He worked as an aircraft loadmaster, earned an associate degree in applied science in aviation operations, and even met and married his wife, Alba, who he met at Cajun’s Wharf. Life was going well for Ruiz, who thought he would spend his whole life in the military and retire.
Things changed after Ruiz’s first child, Zoё, was born in 2014. Ruiz had already been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait, but the thought of leaving his newborn child was devastating.
“Leaving to go fight a war was never hard for me. I accepted the fact that this is what came with the job,” Ruiz said. “The military turned this skinny boy from the suburbs of California into a man. The Air Force saved my life. It gave me goals, ambition, and a drive to never settle. I have never been terrified in my life except for one time. When I watched my 5-pound, 11-ounce baby girl come into this world, I was petrified. My baby was my world, and that’s when I knew I had to do the scariest thing imaginable. I had to leave the Air Force.”
In 2014, Ruiz left the Air Force after eight years of service and moved his family to California and enrolled in college. However, life in California, with its expensive housing market and colleges, did not turn out well. He was only in his second semester at Ohlone College when he developed a devastating case of meningitis that left him unable to complete his classes. After he recovered, Ruiz and his family moved back to Little Rock, and he started at UA Little Rock during fall 2015.
With a strong belief that the world can no longer rely on fossil fuels as its main source of energy, Ruiz studies renewable energy and energy savings solutions “to put myself in a position to leave the world a little better than I found it.” His senior capstone project involved the development of a solar-powered irrigation system.
Ruiz appreciates the small class sizes in the College of Engineering and Information Technology, something he wasn’t used to in California.
“The small class sizes really make the learning environment intimate and student driven. Instructors are able to move at individuals’ pace making sure no one is left behind,” Ruiz said. “The passion EIT professors show for their students keeps me coming back every semester. Coming from California and large college classes really makes me appreciate the time and care everyone at the EIT college spends with the students.”
He is also thankful to Amy Frets, EIT director of student services and retention, whose “mentoring and motivation makes you believe that when everything seems hopeless it can still be done.”
As a full-time, nontraditional student, Ruiz said he has faced the challenges of working two, sometimes three, jobs while attending school in order to support his family, which now includes a second daughter, 1-year-old Khloё.
“UA Little Rock is an institution that allows people like me who are getting up at 4 a.m. to run a truck route and then go to class all day to then go load and unload trucks until 10:30 at night,” Ruiz said. “A student that raises a 4-year-old and 18-month-old baby in their free time. UA Little Rock is an institution that does something no other college around here does. It gives nontraditional people that struggle to survive hope – hope for a better tomorrow. Hope that at the end of it all, that once you earn that degree, your dreams can become a reality. So last but not least, thank you UA Little Rock for making my dreams a reality.”
Ruiz is grateful to staff members of the Military Student Success Center including Cheryl Kleeman, assistant director of military student success, and Kathy Oliverio, director of military student success.
“The Military Student Success Center has been vital to my success during my time at UA Little Rock. It is often thought of as a sanctuary for military students where they can share their college experience, troubles, and accomplishments. I owe all my success and complete turnaround in my GPA, from failing to three straight semesters on the Dean’s List, directly to the MSSC,” Ruiz said. “The Office of Financial Aid has made returning back to school feasible, affordable, and a reality. As a father with two beautiful little girls, I thought I could never be able to afford going back to school while providing for my family. Financial Aid’s support and easy access to scholarships has really eased the stress of college.”
Ruiz is now completing an internship as an assistant energy engineer at Entegrity, an energy consulting business where he hopes to work after his graduation in December 2018. He also plans to pursue a master’s degree in systems engineering.
In the upper right photo, Victor Ruiz is shown with solar panels that he works with at his internship as an assistant energy engineer at Entegrity. Photo by Ben Krain.