A Will to Excel
Cerritos College Graduate Viviana Ruiz Pursues her Passion at UC Berkeley
For Immediate Release: October 16, 2007
Media Contact:Allison Abel, Public Affairs; (562) 860-2451, ext. 7878
Attending one of the top-ranked public universities in the nation, Ruiz is nowhere near being overwhelmed.
“I feel that the science faculty at Cerritos College prepared me very well to face this transition. The level of instruction was top-notch. I feel that I'm competitive—I’m at the level that I can excel.”
Ruiz entered Berkeley with an impressive background, boasting two internships doing biomedical research at California State University Long Beach and UC Irvine. In both her internships, Ruiz studied fruit flies, attempting to identify genes that are similar to those found in humans, so that insights gained about immunological and developmental disorders in the flies could eventually be applied to people. It was this research, Ruiz believes, that gave her a leg up on the competition when she applied for a large scholarship through Berkeley.
“I wondered at what my chances were of actually receiving such a big scholarship, but I’d won several at Cerritos College, so why not try it?” Ruiz reasoned.
In the end, the results were well worth the effort—Ruiz came away with $7,000. Part of it is designated for tuition assistance and other college-related expenses, and another portion is to be used for research. Ruiz hopes to have an opportunity to research abroad, possibly in Brazil, Argentina or Spain. She would like to contribute to cancer research at some point during her college career. But ultimately, she says, she wants to become a physician.
“I got involved in community service while I was at Cerritos College,” says Ruiz. “I began to see that more than just a passion for human biology, I also felt that there was a need for people who were competent to take care of the patients, who were humane and who cared. I knew that it was my call. I couldn’t sit in a lab; I needed to be interacting with humanity and helping cure people.”
Beyond helping her narrow down her career field of interest, Cerritos College also gave Ruiz a much-needed support group through the grant-funded program Project HOPE, which was created to assist underrepresented groups obtain careers in healthcare fields.
“Project HOPE empowered me,” asserts Ruiz. “It was one of the main supports that I had at Cerritos College because it connected me with other students who had great potential. It gave me confidence in terms of feeling that I wasn’t alone—I had people to count on. It gave me academic tools, like tutoring, sponsorship for conferences and educational workshops. It also gave me a job as a tutor for fellow students.”
Besides Project HOPE, Ruiz also benefitted from the attention of professors in several departments. “I was working 30 hours per week and taking a full load of classes. But early on in my time at Cerritos College, I took a class with Diane Keenan from economics, who took me under her wing and offered me a position as her assistant. I started being able to spend more time in school, because I could work and go to school at the same place. She had a lot to do with helping me concentrate and find my path—she encouraged me to pursue my dreams. And she helped me not to get down in the middle of difficult family circumstances.”
Keenan and other professors, says Ruiz, were very important all throughout her time at Cerritos College. She especially appreciates that “they went out of their way to make sure students understood the material. They were very helpful, and really dedicated themselves to their job.”
After the one-on-one attention Ruiz received at Cerritos, it was a bit of an adjustment being at UC Berkeley, where professors often don’t have time to talk to students and competition for individual appointments with faculty can be intense. Still, she loves her new life. This semester, Ruiz is enrolled in a course on human anatomy, and says that what’s she’s learning is “quite spectacular.”
Besides delving into the mysteries of human life, Ruiz says the professor frequently invites practitioners from other specialties to talk to her class.
“At Berkeley, I’m seeing a lot of options. I initially thought about ob-gyn. Now I’m thinking I might become a surgeon.”
Ruiz had the option to enroll at a 4-year college right out of high school, but it wasn’t workable for financial reasons. But in the end, she says she’s better off having gone to Cerritos College.
“At a 4-year there’s so much pressure to get in and out and get your degree. If I had gone to a 4-year straight out of high school, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have ended pursuing a career in medicine,” she says. “At Cerritos College, I could really explore what I wanted to go into, and know what I wanted to do.”
And thanks to perseverance and a lot of support, she’s already well on her way.