Roman Ruiz, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Higher Education Division, is a 2016 recipient of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award. The award recognizes graduate students who show exemplary promise as future leaders in higher education by placing a strong emphasis on teaching and learning. Faculty members must nominate students, and ten were selected out of a pool of nearly 300.
“I view this award as a clarion call to continue conducting rigorous research in order to inform and advance policies that will provide greater educational opportunity to low-income and other marginalized students,” said Ruiz.
As a pre-doctoral researcher, Ruiz works closely with Dr. Laura Perna at PennAHEAD (Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy). After graduating with his M.Ed. in higher education from the University of Arkansas in 2013, Ruiz applied to seven highly ranked doctoral programs. He was accepted with full funding to all of them.
“I came to Penn GSE specifically to work with Laura Perna, the preeminent scholar of college access in the nation,” said Ruiz. “Also, the free application spoke to the school’s commitment to access and diversity. More people can apply if it’s free.”
Ruiz’s research focuses on federal higher education policy, student financial aid, and pre-college interventions. In 2015, he assisted Perna in drafting congressional testimony on best practices for helping low-income and first-generation college students enter and succeed in higher education. Additionally, Ruiz and Perna co-authored a forthcoming book chapter on technology in higher education.
“Roman has found, and is actively pursuing, his passion,” said Perna. “He is teaching and conducting research about the policies and practices needed to increase college access and attainment for students from historically underrepresented groups.”
Ruiz understands this struggle firsthand. As a young child, he moved with his two brothers from California to Arkansas. They were raised and supported by their maternal grandmother.
“I was fortunate to land in Northwest Arkansas,” said Ruiz. “Kids like me may not have financial resources, but we have minds. My teachers took an interest in me, and I realized school was something I excelled at and enjoyed.”
After graduating from high school first in his class, Ruiz went on to earn double degrees in Music Education and Spanish at Arkansas Tech University and received his first master’s degree in music performance at Arizona State University.
Ruiz began his career in higher education as an academic counselor at the University of Arkansas, working for the TRIO Talent Search Program. This Title IV funded early-intervention program is designed to help low-income, first-generation students access higher education. He also served as a mentor for the Council for Opportunity in Education’s, the national advocacy organization for federal TRIO programs, National Student Leadership Congress. Now, Ruiz considers himself incredibly lucky to be at Penn GSE.
“I am overwhelmed by the tremendous opportunities here—I take coursework with leading scholars and participate in policy-relevant research with real-world impact,” said Ruiz. “I can’t thank Laura [Perna] enough for all that she does for me.”