When Sonia Ruelas joined the Peak Education scholarship program in middle school, it changed her life forever. The program gave her the resources and inspiration to become the first in her family to graduate from college.

Program mentors and resources led the California native to participate in clubs and sports at Harrison High School. She ranked third in her class and received a full scholarship from the Kane Family Foundation to attend UCCS.

“Peak Education was a huge motivator because it pushed me to get involved and educated me on what I needed to do to further my education,” she said. “I applied to so many scholarships in high school because I wasn’t sure if I could afford college. If it wasn’t for the Kane Scholarship, I probably would have taken a year off and worked.”

Ruelas graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications last year and began working for local business Equip Inc. in June — first as an intern, then as a part-time employee and now as a full-time account executive.

This week the 22-year-old spoke with the Business Journal on her upbringing and passion for professional development and volunteer work.

What does Equip Inc. do?

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The business originated manufacturing security covers for mall kiosks and has expanded, selling commercial-grade furniture such as barstools, tables and outdoor furniture for shopping centers.

What does your role entail?

I do administrative work, product research and customer quotes. We also sell fitness [equipment] covers on Amazon and I process those orders, as well as invoice and sometimes help production.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

When I came to Equip Inc., I made it clear I wanted to learn as much about entrepreneurship, the core of the business and what it takes to run one as I could.

I love working here because they’ve given me multiple paths. I work a lot with the customers, giving them quotes, but have also been able to learn more on marketing, how to work on the website and how our covers are produced. It’s fun getting to try on different hats.

Do you hope to own business some day?

I’m not sure. I will probably go back to school and get a degree in business or management. I want to be a huge asset to this company and see it grow to its potential.

What do you like most about Colorado Springs?

I really like the diversity of the city and like that there is so much opportunity, from  small businesses to large corporations.

It has more of a family feel; you can do outdoorsy stuff and it doesn’t feel like a bustling city, where everything is busy and crowded.

I like being close to family and like that Denver is only an hour away and Pueblo is even closer.

What has helped you professionally?

I’m determined and ask a lot of questions when I don’t understand something or need something clarified. This company is very team-oriented and it’s a positive environment. I’m grateful for my co-workers and feel fortunate with the boss I have.

What are you passionate about?

Before I started working here I volunteered with the National Alliance for Mental Illness for about six months. I know a lot of people who deal with mental illness, and it’s never taken seriously. I have a sister who has a mental illness and I witnessed it when I was in middle school. I never knew there were so many resources for mental illness and I think awareness is important.

NAMI is like a guide, a resource to anyone who needs help with mental illness or for family members of someone with mental illness. They offer classes and support groups and I really like what they stand for.

With my sister, I wasn’t sure what to do and with my mom, we don’t really talk about that stuff. It’s not something we mentioned, and I think it could have helped us a lot.