Theresa Gonzales, doctorate in educational leadership, and Oscar Ruiz, education specialist degree in school psychology, will be honored as the College of Education’s outstanding graduates in its Class of 2022, which will hold its commencement exercises at 6 p.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Toyota Arena in Ontario.

Gonzales, from Riverside, is currently a high school teacher. She said she decided to pursue a doctorate degree because “I wanted to both challenge myself as well as learn more about my field. With a degree in educational leadership, I had the opportunity to be able to go further in my career if I chose to, while at the same time completing a personal goal of getting a doctorate degree.”

Completing the work for the degree is something she is most proud of “because not only am I the first in my family to have gone to college (which now there are three more family members that followed me) but I was the first to get my master’s (which my sister also did) but now I am the first to get a doctorate. I am proud to be a Mexican American cis-female and to have accomplished this amazing goal.”

Though she has always had great support from her family, Gonzales said she primarily drove herself to complete her doctoral degree. “I wanted to do something for myself, as well as something a very small percentage of Mexican American cis-females have done, which is to complete a higher education degree,” she said. “It was through my own perseverance and motivation that I completed this degree.”

Gonzales praised the university’s educational leadership program, calling it “amazing” with “the greatest instructors and staff,” naming staff member Catherine Snow and faculty members Edna Martinez, Enrique Murillo Jr., Sharon Brown-Welty, Angela Louque, Nancy Acevedo-Gil and program specialist Audrey Baca Lopez among them.

“This program and these people created a curriculum that explored education and the inequalities that exist, and implored us to explore our role in the problem as well as the solution,” she said. “The education I got from this program and from CSUSB has defined the next chapter of my life and informed what changes I need to make to the educational system.”

She plans to continue teaching high school students as well as becoming an educator in a teacher education program at the community college or university level.

Ruiz, also from Riverside, said being a school psychologist was a calling, one that allowed him a career that gives him the “the autonomy to work in health and education simultaneously” and allows him to see “my work result in safer, healthier schools and happier children and families.”

As a first-generation Latinx student, Ruiz said support from his family was instrumental in his success in college. “Their unconditional positive regard, sacrifices, and love in action have been the most motivating and inspiring thing for me – it’s the biggest reason why I’ve been able to push through hard times and make the choice to keep going.”

Academically, he said “the entire school psychology faculty” were his mentors. But he named Roderick D. O’Handley, his formal research mentor. “I really admire his mentorship style and aspire to emulate him once it’s my turn to teach and train the next generation of school psychologists.”

And it helped that being in CSUSB’s school psychology program felt like being in an extended family, Ruiz said. “As much as I enjoyed my time at other schools, I never felt like a really belonged quite as much as when I first stepped foot onto campus and into my first school psychology lecture,” he said. “You could just tell that the faculty and staff really cared for their students and were there for the primary purpose of empowering us and making meaningful memories. Everyone – from my research mentor to program director, to my colleagues and department staff – has been so instrumental in my journey and professional development. I’m deeply grateful I made that decision three years ago to be a part of this ever-growing, inspiring, and innovative community.”

Ruiz will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall, where he will be enrolled as a doctoral student in the school psychology program. “My overall goal is to improve educational programming outcomes for underserved and at-risk communities by way of whichever medium/sector is most effective.”