Student profile: Michael Ruiz follows unconventional path to success

Michael Ruiz grew up in inner-city Los Angeles and is a fifth year, first-generation college student at MSU. Ruiz has a unique field of study; he laughed and said, “It’s a bit confusing, I am a physical anthropologist major with a blend of biomechanical engineering. I am interested in the mechanics of why humans are the way they are and how they’re able to move.”

Being a first-generation student, Ruiz’s educational journey was not easy to come by. “At 19 years of age, a high school drop-out, I was confident that I had the tools necessary to succeed independently in the world. Inevitably, I immediately failed at this,” Ruiz wrote in a statement of purpose essay for the Harvard University graduate program. Because he was the first in his family to attend college, his family is, “pretty much just cheerleaders, and that’s fine, but they don’t know how to offer the right kind of support. It really isolates me from my family.” He went on to share that being a first-generation student is a hard adjustment: “I struggled figuring out how to network with my professors. After five years, I am finally just now starting to get it.”

In 2014, Ruiz was granted the opportunity through the National Student Exchange program at MSU to study at Stony Brook University, an elite research university near Long Island in New York. “I was never more than a mile from the beach,” Ruiz grinned. From 2014-2015, even though Ruiz was an undergraduate, he conducted graduate school level research in the Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences. “I was thrown into the lion’s den!” Ruiz joked, “but I surprised myself when I did well.”

“I did the exchange program to go to a place with real experts in my field. The grad students and professors took me under their wing and showed me how to navigate and network the school. I can definitely see myself doing Ph.D. work there in the future,” Ruiz explained. To any students hoping to take part in the National Student Exchange program, he advises to “really think about where you want to go. Big cities are hard to adjust to if you are not familiar with that lifestyle. Most important, make sure they have the right resources needed to help you succeed.” 

Ruiz is currently in the hectic process of waiting to hear back from graduate schools. “I am a horribly anxious person—I jump at every email,” he nervously laughed. In the meantime, Ruiz will continue his research under the mentorship of Ron June, Ph.D., in the mechanical engineering department at MSU.