From Big College Dreams to Small School Success for Human Resources Professional
For the longest time enrolling at a large university had been the dream of 2019 Marian University graduate Refugio Junior Ruiz.
Lots of people, lots of space, lots of opportunity – or so the Rockford, Ill., native thought.
It only took a few visits to schools like the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin for him to realize bigger isn’t always better.
“When I started to get the feel for how they were, it became concerning,” Ruiz said. “I’d go to an open house or visit a school and be shown a 300-person lecture hall, and each time no one really seemed to know I was even there.”
Luckily he had friends enrolled at Marian who had been talking it up for a while – small class sizes, personalized interactions with professors and an easily walkable campus. All things he had come to appreciate after his numerous big school visits.
“At the bigger schools I had wondered – what if I struggle? Would anyone notice? Would I have any support? And I knew visiting Marian the first time that I would,” Ruiz said. “My first visit, it felt like I was close to home. People who didn’t know me made me feel like they did. Everyone made me feel comfortable and they were so welcoming.”
Settling in, and set up to make a splash
As a first-generation college student, he came to Marian in 2015 unsure of what to major in. One thing was for sure, though – he was in good hands.
Through the EXCEL Program Sue Fuerbringer became his counselor and quickly equipped him to navigate the first year of college by taking a plethora of classes that exposed him to different majors and potential career paths. It was through this that Ruiz discovered his passion for business, and his desire to work in human resources emerged. Accordingly, he became a business administration major and a marketing minor.
To get the full Marian experience he also spent much of his time beyond the classroom joining different student groups and playing co-ed soccer. Despite working on a heavy, 17-credit course load, Ruiz worked at a Fond du Lac BP Gas Station and became a staple working Marian’s admissions office. It also helped that he received numerous scholarships and benefitted from Marian’s financial aid offers.
Not to mention, he was named the 2018 recipient of the Erroll B. Davis Award for Minority Achievement, given out annually to recognize the outstanding scholarship and community service of minority undergraduate students.
“Marian really helped me in the long run, it gave me the opportunity to become part of a family and gave me the opportunity to balance everything financially and academically,” Ruiz said. “I was never too stressed here, the people of Marian really helped me manage everything and contributed to my overall great educational experience.”
The real world is really simple
It didn’t take long after graduation for Ruiz to make his dream of working in human resources a reality, moving to Waukegan, Ill., in June to work as a human resources coordinator for The Popcorn Factory. Selling more than 1 million pounds of popcorn per year, the “popcorn authority” specializes in creating an impressive collection of crowd-pleasing gifts and great-tasting snacks.
“Marian’s faculty really pushed me and got the best out of me, and it really prepared me to work for (The Popcorn Factory). When I came to the job it obviously required training, but not as much as if I had not gone to Marian,” Ruiz said, noting that taking four years of classes from Associate Professor of Information Technology Michael Doherty gave him the software and program skills to excel in his role. “Because of him and his class I was able to step right in to the job. I was prepared, and it felt like everything I was being asked to do I had been doing for a long time.”
As he continues to evolve in the human resources field, Ruiz also has his eyes on owning a business someday. He wants to be his own boss and looks forward to being able to manage something he creates as an entrepreneur.
Starting a business can be hard, but Ruiz knows he is prepared, and that his time at Marian helped make that possible.
“A lot of people doubted me when I graduated high school, saying I’d never succeed in college, and especially when I was working two jobs,” Ruiz said. “But I succeeded at Marian and learned a lot there, and I know anything is possible when you put your mind to it.”