WYOMISSING, Pa. — Many returning adult learners credit their children as their motivation, and Bianca Marie Ruiz is no exception. A first-generation college student, mother of three, and now a graduate of the occupational therapy program at Penn State Berks, Ruiz and her fellow graduates will celebrate their achievements during the fall 2021 commencement ceremony on Dec. 15 at the Santander Arena in Reading.
Ruiz credits her daughter in particular as her inspiration for earning her degree. When her daughter was diagnosed with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a condition that affects many parts of the body, Ruiz was introduced to the world of occupational therapy. Her daughter has been in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy since shortly after she was born, and it was through that experience that Ruiz found her new path.
“I knew I wanted to attend Penn State,” she recalled, “but I wanted to take it slowly. I started at Reading Area Community College (RACC), and they had a partnership with Lehigh Carbon Community College, but I wanted my degree to say ‘Penn State.’ It was close to home, and I’ve always had a respect for Penn State.”
Ruiz pursued her general education credits while attending RACC, and then transferred to Penn State Berks.
“I got such a well-rounded education,” Ruiz explained, reflecting on her time at Berks. “My professors have all been amazing and they all bring their own expertise –– that’s really what’s going to help me. I feel ready. They’ve taught me enough, and I fully feel capable of stepping into this field because of them.”
As a part of one of two internships that she completed, Ruiz worked with Hope Rescue Mission, a men’s homeless shelter in the city of Reading, and was part of an effort to raise funds to install a stairlift. She recalled the experience as a very positive one –– a chance to try new things and to help others with new experiences.
“In the end, the best part is helping people,” Ruiz said. “From person to person it’s so different, but in the end it’s a good feeling to help people do something they’ve never done, something that has an impact in their lives.”
After graduation, Ruiz said she’s keeping her options open.
“Because I wasn’t really clear what population I wanted to work with, I’m open to anything. I like working with children, I like working with the community, so I’m open to anything,” she said.
Her dream job would be in community practice, and she would love the opportunity to once more work with Hope Rescue Mission to demonstrate the importance of occupational therapy in shelters once they achieve their goal of opening a women’s and children’s shelter in the city of Reading.