On November 2, the College of Health and Human Services will host the 2016 Community Heroes Awards to recognize the unsung heroes in our community whose actions, thoughts and words have had a transformative impact in our region. For the rest of the month, we will be highlighting our nine honorees in our Community Heroes Series.
Name: Rosanna Ruiz
Occupation: Education Program Manager, Sierra Foothill Conservancy
Nominated by: Department of Recreation Administration
Personal hero: “My mom, Lydia Terrazas Brase who, despite struggles in school and grasping English, went on to become a school teacher, obtain her master’s degree, and retire as a Master’s level teacher.”
At an early age, Rosanna Ruiz displayed an inquisitive zest for nature. She recalls childhood summers spent in southern California, splashing in the creek, climbing on rocks and trees, catching lizards and frogs, and coming home disheveled from a long day of adventure. She simply loved the outdoors and these early experiences served as defining moments that helped shape her values toward nature and her connection to it.
Ruiz admits her passion for the recreation and conservation fields would come later in life. Initially, her career began in the engineering field, which included eight years working on the space shuttle program, as well as road and flood control channel design.
In 1993, Ruiz decided to leave the engineering world and return to her roots in nature. She states this was a defining moment in her life that would lead to a more fulfilling career. With a child in tow, and three part-time jobs in recreation, Ruiz returned to Cal Poly Pomona and completed a bachelor’s degree in Recreation Administration with an emphasis in Management and Outdoor Recreation.
Today, she is the education program manager at Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC), a local land trust that honors natural and cultural heritage by protecting grasslands, foothills and forests. It was here where her love of nature collided with her enthusiasm for conservation. With a recreation background, Ruiz appreciates the desire for people to use natural resources for fun and enjoyment. However, as a naturalist she has learned there is a delicate balance between conservation and recreation.
In her role overseeing the SFC education programs, Ruiz is charged with inspiring in others a sense of responsibility for the caring of shrinking natural habitats. This was not an easy task for Ruiz at first, but she would soon realize that in order to engage people, they would need to have opportunities to create defining moments in their own lives.
“Individuals would be more apt to take responsibility for something that they cared about, and they would care more about something if they felt connected to it,” Ruiz said. “Through personal and meaningful experiences, people develop a sense of appreciation for the natural places that remain.”
Creating personal and meaningful experiences is what drives Ruiz, whether it concerns participants in the SFC education program, the many interns she mentors, the volunteers she works alongside, or the students she has taught over the years. Her desire to help people make connections heightened her interest in leadership, which led to her pursuing a master’s degree in Leadership and Organizational Studies through Fresno Pacific University.
Soon after, she became an adjunct instructor in environmental science and math at Heald College. Later, she became an instructor for the UC California Naturalist Program, and most recently taught Environmental Interpretation for the Department of Recreation Administration at Fresno State.
Ruiz sees teaching as an opportunity to help open doors for others and allow them to discover more about themselves as they navigate a curriculum, and it also gives herself a chance to serve her community in another capacity.
Most recently, Ruiz organize a three-way collaborative between SFC, the Department of Recreation Administration and the City of Fresno PARCS. Through her Environmental Interpretation class, Ruiz prepared her students to host a docent training event to engage leaders and teachers interested in bringing students to the SFC McKenzie Preserve for field days.
One of the goals of that project was to partner with recreation specialists from Fresno PARCS in an effort to broaden the experiences of the people they serve in their neighborhood community centers.
This project was part of the recreation administration department’s Sustainable Parks and Recreation Community Initiative, which allows students and faculty to engage with the city to look at sustainable parks systems.
She maintains a strong connection with Fresno State, working with students from the Recreation Administration Department as well as the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning since 2009. By creating meaningful projects on SFC preserves, she has been able to mentor many students through their internships, class service requirements, and service-learning projects.
Ruiz continues her adventure at SFC and in teaching. She is grounded in an innate desire to instill a sense of value in those that are part of that journey and takes care to be an active practitioner in an effort to understand the needs of those she serves. Ultimately, Ruiz wants to effect change in the community and inspire others to do the same.
The 2016 Community Heroes Awards, which celebrates heroes from each of the seven academic departments, as well as centers and institutes within our college, will be held on November 2, 2016 at Fresno State. For more information on the event, contact Sandra Daily at 559.278.3603 or firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.