Highly interested in getting those around her to feel, look, and be their best, Lori Ruiz is the prime example of what it means to be actively encouraging her students while simultaneously juggling the hats of student, mom, and director of health services within Freer Independent School District in Freer, Texas. Completing her second bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Performance this December 2023, Lori Ruiz is not only excited to embark on the next journey before her but also start her long awaited career of becoming a practicing nurse and counselor for high school athletes in her school. Hoping to make a difference in how students view their relationship between fitness, mental health, and school priorities, Lori is eager to make a lasting difference in the lives of her athletes, staff members, and family.
From High School Athlete to High School Nurse
Like many active kids, Lori was a big fan of exercise and high-energy games. Thinking back to her time in high school, Lori always knew she enjoyed health and fitness – how it made her feel and the wondrous aspects of what it meant to be an athlete. Lori remembers fondly how much she enjoyed volleyball. Smiling as she recalls her high school years, Lori says she “always liked just being active. It made [her] feel things [she] never did before, so high school was pretty fun overall.” Walking the halls and thinking about where she could take her life next, Lori decided that she didn’t want to leave her community for long.
Hoping to stay close-by her friends and family, she set off and attended Coastal Bend College (formally Bee County College) in Beeville, Texas and majored in nursing, where she was able to fall in love with healthcare and assisting those in need around her.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college and wanted to be someone that could impact others,” Lori said. “And since I was a high school athlete myself, I knew I wanted to come back to Freer and help students who were just like me. I wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to me.”
After graduating and completing her nursing exams, Lori was officially a registered nurse. And, whether it was luck or God’s ultimate plan, Lori began to work right back where her first love started all along – Freer ISD. Like many college graduates, Lori was scouting for jobs left and right. It just so happened that her home base, her alma mater, the place where her love for students and sports started, needed someone just like her. And just like that, she was a high school nurse – the career she always wanted to have.
“It’s pretty incredible to think about the fact that I got a job here,” Lori explained. “I tell my students, ‘Never say never,’ and in many ways, it’s true. I never thought I would come back, and here I am.”
Finding ACU Online
With a spirit and positive attitude like Lori’s, it was no surprise that her supervisor noticed something in her. After speaking with her about potential promotions within Freer ISD, specifically the district’s need for a nurse with knowledge surrounding kinesiology and common athletic issues, Lori was prompted to look online for more information on potential schools that catered to adults looking to enhance their careers. With that goal in mind, Lori started looking and found an advertisement for an online degree through ACU in health and human performance. Bingo! She found it, and now it was time to – once again – go back to school. And while some might consider a second bachelor’s degree as a waste or a step back, to Lori, this was a step forward.
“I always considered myself a life-long learner,” Lori remarked. “The idea of going back to school was kind of scary, but not something I was afraid of doing. I knew this was going to be beneficial to my career and so, I jumped in.”
Within a matter of days, Lori went from seeing the advertisement to being enrolled. One thing Lori distinctly remembers is “how easy they made the whole process” considering her full-time job as a school nurse and mom. And while cost and flexibility were things she greatly considered prior to selecting ACU Online, the most important selling point for her was ACU’s emphasis on Christian formation and career development.
“For me personally, I just felt like ACU was the place for me. They knew that work and my family were big priorities for me,” Lori said. “As a mom and full-time high school nurse, it was really important for me to feel like I had that support from my professors to keep going even when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. ”
Looking Outward Beyond Graduation
In December 2023, Lori graduated with her second bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Performance. And although she was unable to walk the stage, Lori is proud of her hard work and dedication all these years leading up to this moment. Passing all her courses with flying colors, Lori now sees how far she’s come. Celebrating her 25th year as a practicing nurse, Lori hopes to start using her degree to treat students with athletic injuries on-site, knowing the pain and struggles that come with that.
“As an athlete, when you get hurt, you might feel like the world has ended,” Lori explained. “And that’s where I see my job come in. I want to remind our students that their lives are not over. They can still make a difference and reach the goal they set for themselves – even if they don’t fully recover.”
Now, serving as the director of health services for Freer ISD, Lori is already thinking about what her next step will be. Hoping to start her master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy with ACU Online, Lori believes there is a reason why God has taken her through this path. From nursing to sports medicine, Lori senses that the underlying thread has always been, students and their mental well-being. To her, there’s a need in schools to take care of students with serious problems at home and in their personal relationships – and she would love to fill that gap. Whether she’s assisting a student or cheering on her football athletes from the sidelines, Lori knows the pressures that come with high school. And, for once, she would like to be a person who they can feel free to talk with.
“I have a heart for students and all the things that come with high school, classes, college, sports, and relationships,” Lori said. “I was there myself, and I think getting a better grasp of counseling and therapy can really help me, help them.”
Lori’s time at ACU Online is far from over, according to her. The journey has been long, but it’s been so worth it. Had it not been for ACU Online, Lori believes she wouldn’t have become the nurse and student advocate she is today. Every day, she tells her students to never give up on their dreams. As Lori would say, “You never know when those dreams will come true, so keep pushing forward. You’ll find your way soon enough.”
Interested in getting more information about ACU Online? Visit our website or call 855-219-7300 to learn how you can step into a fulfilling, innovative future at ACU Online.