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Dalton State Graduate Found Sense of Belonging in School

Finishing her education at Dalton State is so important to Nubia Ruiz, she chose to live apart from her husband for the first year of their marriage.

The high school sweethearts wed in November of 2015 after Ruiz had already been accepted into her cohort for the School of Education. Her husband, Pablo, is in the Navy, stationed in San Diego.

Ruiz knew it was a temporary sacrifice, and one that was necessary for her future plans to teach in the Whitfield County area.

“Nothing is impossible. If something is hard, I will find a way to figure it out,” she said. “I love Dalton. I grew up here. I went all the way through school here. This is where I want to live and work. I wanted to go to school and do my student teaching in the area I would become a teacher. It has been hard being away from my husband. I visit him every chance I get. He has less than a year left on his contract with the Navy, and then he’ll come back here to live.”

Ruiz graduates Thursday with her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

Though Ruiz’s parents never went to college, they emphasized the importance of an education to their children. When she graduated from Southeast Whitfield High School, she initially went away to college planning to become a nurse in pediatrics.

“In my sophomore, in the second university I had attended, I got a call asking me to volunteer in a school back home,” Ruiz said. “I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, just that I wanted to work with children. But when I was in that school reading to those children, seeing their faces smiling at me, I asked myself ‘Should I come home to Dalton State?’”

Ruiz realized she belonged at Dalton State in the education program. She returned home and never regretted that decision.

“I love the small community at Dalton State,” she said. “I could go anywhere I wanted, and I did. But I belong at Dalton State. I think it’s so important to go to school where you want to live and work if you can. You can immerse yourself in the community, get to know where you’ll be working and make a difference.”

Ruiz has been instrumental in the School of Education’s Learning Academy. Faculty and students help support parents at elementary schools in the Whitfield County School System by leading them in ways to supplement their child’s education at home. For example, parents will be given a book to read with their child and some discussion questions geared at increasing reading comprehension.

“In the Learning Academies, parents who were participating in the workshops saw her as a trusted insider and would ask for her help outside of the lesson,” said Dr. Sharon Hixon, dean of the School of Education. “She has a great deal of confidence, but she is not arrogant.”

Because of a language barrier and work schedule, Ruiz’s parents often weren’t involved in her life as a student. She takes her own experience and applies it to the parents she works with at the Learning Academy.

“Parents identify with me,” Ruiz said. “It’s important they feel comfortable with me because we’re all part of the same community. It’s like when you go somewhere like Washington, D.C. and find someone from the South and you stand there and talk about your love of sweet tea and feel that instant connection. Parent involvement is important, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get them involved.”

“Nubia’s ideas are creative, and her teaching is sound,” said Dr. Jacquelyn Mesco, an assistant professor of education. “She has volunteered with so many projects, including the Learning Academy. She is friendly and is always willing to help her peers and members of the community.”

Through the School of Education, Ruiz was also able to study abroad twice, something she never considered when enrolling in college.

Ruiz joined many other students from the School of Education to travel to Costa Rica where they worked in schools there.

The first year, a student asked Ruiz to write her name on a slip of paper so she could see “Nubia” in print. The next year, Ruiz was surprised to learn the girl had kept that slip of paper. She pulled it out proudly to show Ruiz.

“What 6-year-old keeps a tiny slip of paper with a name on it?” Ruiz said. “You don’t know what impact you have on people.”

“That story is a testament to how quickly Nubia connects with people,” Hixon said. “When you’d see her working with students and parents, you would think she is already an experienced teacher, and not a teacher candidate. As a student, her work is insightful and she almost always submits the work well in advance of due dates. With her skill and dispositions, she will have plenty of opportunities for employment. I see her as a future teacher leader.”