For Omar Ruiz, pursuing a doctoral degree was never his intention, but rather an endeavor that happened purely by coincidence. As a young boy, he was fascinated by UPS trucks and dreamt of one day driving one professionally, but along the way, his career path shifted – and as it turns out, life had other plans in store for him.
This month, Ruiz will be one of two Deaf students to earn their doctorate degree at Fresno State, with Ruiz earning a doctorate specifically in Educational Leadership. With his latest degree, Ruiz will be a three-time Fresno State alumnus, having also received a master’s degree in Multilingual Multicultural Education and a bachelor’s degree in Sociology. He joins a small, but elite, number of Deaf professionals to earn a doctorate degree in education.
A testament to his perseverance and dedication, Ruiz channeled his passion and firsthand experience into his doctoral dissertation, “Exploring the communication and systematic barriers of Deaf and Hard of Hearing graduate students in higher education”.
Ruiz said the research explores the experiences, roadblocks, and inequalities Deaf and Hard of Hearing students face daily in academia.
When pursuing his doctorate, Ruiz knew it would not only be challenging, but would also open up countless doors of opportunity and allow him to impact more individuals.
“I love being part of a cohort and also being presented with opportunities to contribute to the deaf community,” Ruiz said.
Throughout his academic journey at Fresno State, Omar has worked closely with his ASL interpreter, Michelle Tindall, who he says has been a huge contributor to his academic success.
Born and raised in Ensenada, Mexico, Ruiz did not learn English until he was 16 years old. At 17, he emigrated to the U.S. and by 18, graduated from high school.
Not long after, he attended community college in Huntington Beach for one year, later dropping out, citing his difficulties studying and retaining information due to the shortage of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters on campus. He returned to college a few years later at CSU Bakersfield. The setbacks he faced in his earlier college years set the pace for his future aspirations.
Now, Ruiz is an ASL instructor at Clovis Community College – a career he loves. Prior to that, he was a career counselor at the Fresno Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center for seven years. He says there are many barriers the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community still face. In fact, he can vividly recall spending many hours trying to convince managers, human resources, and companies to give Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals a chance at employment.
“As time went on, it became clear to me I was fighting the wrong battle,” Ruiz said. “Afterwards, I decided to become an ASL instructor in order to teach the next generation about communication and what Deaf and Hard and Hearing individuals are truly capable of.”
After earning his doctorate, Ruiz aspires to write an educational book and pursue an administrative role within the education sector. Looking ahead, Ruiz is filled with gratitude as he thinks about where his academic and professional journey has led him thus far.
“It is gratifying to be part of the small group of Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who have earned a doctorate,” Ruiz said. “I never looked at earning my doctorate as my goal, but nevertheless, I have enjoyed every minute of the journey so far.”
Deaf people succeeding in life is not inspirational, it is literally just what happens if you give them a fair chance and accessibility.Naomi Smart
(Written by Audra Burwell, a Creative Writing Student, within the Kremen School of Education and Human Development)