UHV student earns leadership award from diversity association

When Emi Ruiz first started a project for her job with University of Houston-Victoria Title IX and Equal Opportunity, she had no idea how much it would help her grow as a leader. Now, the Harlingen native is being recognized statewide for her work.

Ruiz, who recently graduated from UHV with a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, was recognized with the “Unsung Leader” award from the Texas Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

Emi Ruiz

“I still feel a bit shocked because this was so unexpected,” she said. “I am so honored to win this award. I do not do things for recognition, but it feels good to have received this award.”

The Unsung Leader award recognizes student leaders who aren’t always recognized for their contributions to their organization or community, according to the association’s website. Award recipients also should be described as humble, working hard behind the scenes and inspirational to others to become better leaders so that their campus or community is a more inclusive environment. Ruiz was presented the award on May 27 through a virtual ceremony. She will receive a commemorative plaque and $150.

Ruiz was nominated for the award by Rebecca Lake, UHV senior director for equal access. Ruiz has worked as an Equal Opportunity Program assistant since 2019. In addition to her campus job, Ruiz also was a member of the Multicultural Advisory Committee and previously served in leadership roles in the Student Government Association, the Criminal Justice Society and the Residence Hall Association. Lake nominated Ruiz for the award during the spring semester. Lake describes Ruiz as a sweet and quiet student focused on academics and a go-getter behind the scenes.

For her campus job, Ruiz often would conduct intensive research for office assignments. Ruiz requested a work assignment to help her build new communication skills before she graduated, so Lake suggested Ruiz interview student leaders, faculty and staff members about serving students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initial assignment was for Ruiz to gather enough information for the office to use for social media or a short slideshow presentation. After Ruiz presented her first recorded interview, her supervisors saw there was potential for more. Ruiz not only recruited participants for interviews, she also prepped each person with what to expect when recording and produced each interview herself.

Rebecca Lake

“She did great during her first interview, and so we gave her some feedback, and from there, Emi just blossomed,” Lake said. “She managed the entire project. It’s been great to see Emi take something and really master it almost on her own. To go from inexperience in an area and develop her own skills and take it to such a high level is incredibly impressive. We are so proud of Emi and her work.”

The project evolved into a 10-episode podcast called the University Opportunity Series, which begins releasing episodes this week. The podcast includes recorded interviews with UHV students and staff discussing how they adapted to college life during a pandemic; and how their organizations supported first-generation students, minority student populations, LGBTQIA+ students, and other special student populations. The podcast also highlighted how organizations can help address the disconnect between students who live on and off campus, and opportunities organizations presented to students to stay involved on campus or virtually.

Ruiz started on the project in October and finished in May. Through her work on the project, Ruiz said she learned how much her fellow students and UHV faculty and staff cared about the overall well-being of the UHV student body. She was not expecting to be nominated for an award and is grateful to Lake and equal opportunity analyst Shayna Palacios for their guidance during the project.

“I look up to them, so it means a lot that they would nominate me for an award,” Ruiz said. “I am still a bit shy, but now I feel more confident in my skills.”

Ruiz is now a graduate student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where she is studying to get a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on public safety. She would like to one day work as a juvenile probation officer and help children get on a good life track.

 Ruiz thanked Lake and Palacios for their help and guidance through the years, and she also thanked her parents and her boyfriend, UHV student Eliamani Juma, for their support.

To listen to the University Opportunity Series, go to The University Opportunity Series also will be available on major podcast streaming services, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Spotify.

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Amber Aldaco