Sociology and international relations double major Celisse Ruiz '11 has been named a recipient of this year's annual Alcala Award, which honors one male and one female graduate for excellence in academics, leadership and service. Six members of the USD faculty and staff nominated the honors student, noting her dedication to Community Service Learning, Residential Life and University Ministry. Ruiz has accepted a position with the Teran Foundation in Northern Mozambique, where she will assist in developing programs that strengthen rural communities by working on designing campaigns that promote conservation, HIV/AIDS prevention, upgrade rural schools and support local entrepreneurship.
Why is liberal arts education important to you, and how have your experiences outside of the classroom contributed to your education?
A liberal arts education is important to me because it is holistic in nature. I am a firm believer that education outside the classroom is just as important as instruction inside the classroom. A liberal arts education helps to facilitate and foster aspirations and interests outside of the classroom. I have greatly appreciated the Community Service Learning aspect of many of my classes and the required study abroad component of International Relations, because they represent the ideals of liberal arts. The work I have done in the community, with the elderly, with individuals with HIV/AIDS, teen moms and abroad have served to enhance and provide real life examples of the theories and ideas I have learned in class. Ultimately, a liberal arts education has allowed me to grow and live as an educated and motivated member of the global community I hope to serve.
"Ultimately, a liberal arts education has allowed me to grow and live as an educated and motivated member of the global community I hope to serve."
Why did you choose to study abroad in Morocco? Tell us about that experience.
Morocco was one of the greatest decisions I made while at USD. I always knew that I wanted to travel to North Africa because the region fascinates me. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world, so I was looking for something truly different and challenging. The Morocco program offered by USD is the one that I believed would push me more than any other. In Morocco, I studied at a local Moroccan University and lived in an apartment in the city, so we were fully immersed in the culture with local Moroccans. Living in a Muslim community required some adjusting but learning to live in and respect their culture while still being true to myself provided to be an amazing opportunity to grow.
The thing I miss the most was going up to the roof of our apartment building to hang laundry and looking out over the old city, the medina, and seeing minarets amongst buildings that are several hundred years old. I enjoyed going into the medina and getting lost in the maze-like streets just to experience the culture. I had an amazing experience and know that if ever I can make it back I will have friends and family to stay with. Morocco definitely opened up my world to so many more opportunities and taught me that faith comes in a variety of forms and religions and that it is the meaningful connections with people that matter most.
Tell us about some of your favorite professors.
Dr. Williams, in the Political Science Department, challenged me academically. His class was one of those that I loved and hated all at the same time, but I came out of it a stronger student and person. Dr. Reifer, in the Sociology Department, is a wealth of knowledge, and taking four of his classes has increased my capacity for critical analysis of the world around me. Dr. Kirkley, in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, was my professor first semester of my freshmen year, and I still get excited when I see her in Aromas because her energy and enthusiasm has the ability to lift my spirits, even at 7 a.m.
I think this is the beauty of a Liberal Arts education; the professors who are most influential to my University experience do not have to be in my major. I have always established great relationships with my professors, so these are only a few of my favorites; I could go on and on talking about how wonderful they have all been to me.
"There is so much to do and so much to be involved with that it is important to take the time and try a bit of everything. Being involved on campus allows you to meet amazing people that you may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise."
What is special about USD in your opinion?
USD is special in that it combines the best of the Catholic faith with education. The intentional emphasis on Catholic Social Thought has really helped bring me closer to my faith. The beauty of how USD connects with faith is that it enhances all of its aspects, allowing me, and others, to interpret and interact with faith in ways that I am comfortable with. All of the people within USD's community also make it special. The students, the faculty, the staff and community partners help shape the environment and sentiment of the campus. USD has managed to bring a wide assortment of people to the school, who are all special in their own ways. And as these individuals come to USD, they leave lasting impressions, slightly altering USD by their presence. Ultimately, USD is an all around amazing place, from its structural beauty to the beauty of the individuals on campus each day. Not a day goes by when I am not reminded of this beauty, which provides USD with its strongest and most special characteristic.
As a recent graduate, what is your advice to the class of 2015?
I would say don't limit yourself at USD. There is so much to do and so much to be involved with that it is important to take the time and try a bit of everything. Being involved on campus allows you to meet amazing people that you may not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. Although I have made friends in classes, my true friends are those I shared experiences with while engaging in service or activities on and off campus. I would also like to remind them that four years is not that long, so capitalize on every moment and every opportunity. And finally, you are going to have the rest of your life to work and be "grownup," enjoy the freedom that being in college affords you and take advantage of everything USD has to offer.
- Anne Malinoski '11