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The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Ruben Ruiz remembered: financial aid officer and trusted colleague

Ruben Ruiz, City College financial aid officer, died Jan. 22, 2021. (photo: Maria Ruiz)

Ruben Ruiz, who worked for City College since 1993, most recently as a financial aid officer, died Jan. 22, 2021. He was 55. 

For the past 15 years, Ruiz’s job allowed him to help countless students receive much-needed financial aid.

Mauricio Gonzalez, a counselor and Human Career Development Professor at City College, worked with Ruiz for 16 years. Gonzalez said that Ruiz would often help students complete financial aid applications, reviewing them for errors and pointing out the exact line on the application where the student had made a mistake.

“It was that thing he could do, because he was a financial aid officer, that none of us could do. Even though we are academic professionals. My limitations are big in my job. I cannot do that per contract,” said Gonzalez. “You need that counterpart. You need that other half of your person, of your work professional, to take on those students that you are trying to help. He was that guy.”

People who knew Ruiz at City College relied on him to be a problem solver. 

“He was that guy for the Puente program, for general counseling…for the RISE program—he was that guy for EOPS,” Gonzalez said. “When shit hits the fan, [everyone] called Ruben because he [was] going to figure it out.”

In her home office, City College counselor Sandra Guzman has lit a candle to honor Ruiz and all he did for students. As a professor for the Puente Project at City College, Guzman said that Ruiz was a reliable means of support for the undocumented students she worked with.

“We celebrate the impact he had on our students’ lives, who will forever be changed because of the access they have. Something we forget—that financial aid is about access. If you do not have access to aid for school, you are done.” Guzman said. “That access to higher education through the use of his assistance impacted thousands of students’ lives.”

Guzman also recalled the many times Ruiz helped students gain access to financial aid by helping them through the complex process that was entirely new to them.

“The [students] didn’t always have access to financial aid, so when it finally opened up for them, there was a great deal of confusion, mystery, concern and a lot of mistakes in filling out that paperwork because it was the first time that was even an option,” Guzman said.

Ruiz would take the time to sit down with bilingual families to help students communicate to their parents why tax forms and other important documents were necessary to secure financial aid for students. He would also help clarify that it was safe for them to submit their personal information, Guzman said.

“Ruben would often go the extra mile and a half to call the parents and talk to them in Spanish. He would ease their worry. He would explain to them how important it was that their child had this information so that they can get the aid they needed.”

According to Guzman, if that meant submitting documents for students who did not have access to a fax or copy machine, Ruiz would instruct Gonzalez and Guzman to file the students application in a yellow manila envelope and leave it aside for him to pick up in private.

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“He would take that envelope and do whatever magic he did. The email I would get from Ruben was most often, ‘It is done. I have taken care of it,’” said Guzman. “As little as that may seem, it was the difference between that student dropping out of college that day or continuing.” 

Some students can’t afford to pay rent and buy food, Guzman said, much less attend college, and Ruiz helped provide that level of funding for them. 

“I feel a little lost without him,” she said. “I knew that if I sent him my student, I was 100 percent certain that he was going to take care of them like they were his own.” 

According to Gonzalez, Ruiz was driven by putting an end to poverty.

“It is hard to come by a professional that will put things on the line to get students their money,” Gonzalez said. “He is going to be missed. He is missed.”

Ruiz was raised in Sacramento and attended Christian Brothers High School, then earned a bachelor’s degree in business at California State University, Sacramento. 

Ruiz is survived by his wife of 26 years, Maria Ruiz, and their children Luis, Edgar and Yeni, as well as 11 grandchildren. 

Maria Ruiz works in the City College counseling office as a receptionist. People who know the couple said that they were devoted to each other.  

“It was always beautiful to see, to watch a married couple working together, having lunch together,” Gonzalez said. “The funny thing is that if I could not get ahold of Ruben, I would say, ‘Hey, Maria! Can you call Ruben?’ because I knew he would answer the phone if he saw her code.”

Ruben Ruiz is also survived by five sisters, three brothers, five sisters-in-law, and four brothers-in-law. He was a brother, father, uncle, grandfather and great grandfather. 

Ruiz was a longtime Raiders fan. Gonzalez said, recalling an occasion at a tailgate party eating authentic Mexican food with the Ruizes and their family. 

“It was on a whole other level of authenticity of who they were — Maria’s ability to feed masses of some of the best food I have ever had. All of their children, well adult children, were there with grandkids.” Gonzalez said. “It was astronomical in terms of food and fun. To hang out with these cool-ass people was by far my favorite memory with Ruben. Before that it was only work.We hadn’t got the chance to really know his family. I knew Maria and I knew him, but I did not know everybody else and how they played into the family dynamic. That was a huge eye-opener of what family is.”

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