Imelda Ruiz is a woman of immense self-confidence — and with good reason.

She landed her dream job fresh out of college, worked her way up into a leadership position in a male-dominated field of engineers at Colorado Springs Utilities, and still somehow finds time to volunteer in her faith community while co-parenting five children.

But Ruiz’s belief in herself wasn’t always so steadfast. Throughout her youth, she struggled to envision her future.

“In high school I remember feeling like I just needed to survive it,” Ruiz said. “I was still learning English and it was all so intimidating. Most of my original friends I’d started high school with had dropped out. And that seemed like such an easy decision: to just drop out and get a job, and life wouldn’t be so hard anymore.”

One of five children born to Mexican immigrants employed as seasonal field workers in the agriculture industry, Ruiz said her parents were not educated beyond the sixth grade, and she always felt in her youth that higher education was an unattainable dream.

But with the support of an older sibling who encouraged her to think bigger, Ruiz began to believe.

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She enrolled at UCCS and worked as an intern for CSU while earning her degree in electrical engineering.

After graduating, she accepted a full-time job with CSU working in substation design. Later, when a position opened for a managing engineer for substation and transmission engineering, those close to Ruiz encouraged her to apply.

“It took a lot of people believing in me,” Ruiz said. “I don’t have a single doubt in my mind that if somebody didn’t tell me that it was possible, I wouldn’t have gotten here. It wasn’t just luck — it was people taking that time and showing that interest in me.”

Now, Ruiz seeks to do the same for others by empowering them to accomplish their goals and acknowledge their own value, much like others did for her along her path from potential high school dropout to college graduate and accomplished managing engineer.

She volunteers for numerous programs in her Catholic faith community, helps run a church youth group, hosts marriage training for couples, and serves as a leader in the Colorado Springs Cursillo Movement. She also serves as a mentor to young Hispanic students in the community who may consider pursuing further education, but lack confidence in their ability to earn their high school diploma or college degree.

“I know what it’s like to just feel lost,” Ruiz said. “So when adults tell me their kids are going into middle and high school, I tell them, ‘Look, these are the struggles I faced. So when you see your kids starting to feel doubtful or nervous, tell them to come find me.’ Because you have to at least be aware of what you can do. Then if you choose not to, that’s your choice. But you have to know that it’s a possibility.”