[Clinton, N.C.] – In Summer of 2023, Rutben Cruz, a senior at Sampson Early College High School (SECHS), was announced as a 2023 Fellow for LatinxEd, an educational initiative in NC that provides targeted, multi-year support to Latinx students and immigrant families striving for higher education and greater opportunity.
The LatinxEd fellowship specifically is designed to facilitate leaders continued professional development, lift up their voices to a statewide platform, and assist them in advocating on behalf of the Latinx community.
Cruz explained, “What being a fellow consists of is having the opportunity to network with other youth leaders, bounce ideas off one another, and overall build off each other experiences. The idea is to use our fellowship experience and apply it in our schools, activities, clubs, and day to day leadership opportunities. But the main goal is to advance education equity Latinx Leaders and break down some social barriers.”
A first-generation college student, Cruz mentioned that his family are proud Mexicans who “wish to uphold the pride of the Mexican people” in all they do. His father comes from the indigenous tribe Otomi, formerly residing in the state of Hidalgo, in the municipality Zimmipan.
Although his mother’s side of the family is not indigenous, Cruz mentioned that she continues to embrace all their cultural heritage, recognizing that it’s a special part of their identity. Like his family, Cruz also wishes to preserve his culture, specifically through learning the language of his people.
“Even though I don’t know the specific dialect, I have ambitions to learn the tongue when I go back home for the holidays,” Cruz expressed. “It’s important to me to uphold the tongue of my people and not let the language to die out through the generations.”
Cruz was first introduced to the LatinxEd fellowship through his brother, Levi, who had completed the program during his senior year of high school. Following in his footsteps, in July 2023, Cruz joined LatinxEd on their yearly summer retreat. Afterwards, he decided to continue the program after seeing all the opportunities it brought for Latino youth leaders.
He voiced, “The main reason chose to continue with the program because of how much they embrace the culture of heritage of all members. The LatinxEd fellowship retreat teaches that… to show each other’s pride in our Latino roots. That lead me to be more involved with their workshops after their retreat.”
In the future, Cruz hopes to pursue a degree in sports medicine with the goal of becoming either a physical or orthopedic therapist, due to his love of powerlifting. He also participates in SCC’s Juntos Club and served as the 2022-2023 Vice President of the Student Government Association (SGA)– planning to run for President in 2023-2024.
Genevieve Merlos-Pulley, Success Coach & Juntos Program Coordinator, noted that Cruz is “always ready to support and strengthen the Latino community and the Sampson community as a whole in any way possible.” Through his immense desire to make a positive impact, Merlos-Pulley believes that Cruz will continue to grow into a strong advocate for the Latino community.
She elaborated, “Rutben exemplifies the essence of a true leader – a self-starter, a creative force, and a compassionate soul. He is always driven to help others, and his boundless energy and innovative spirit continue to bring forth new project ideas. Rutben truly embodies the very essence of community engagement and empowerment for Latinos.”
With his newfound knowledge gained as a LatinxEd fellow, Cruz plans to apply his experiences to the “heart and soul” of the College, specifically the SGA. He hopes to continue educating others on Hispanic culture through creating more opportunities for both learning and celebration of his people, especially since SCC gained the title of Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) in 2022.
Cruz stated, “The LatinxEd fellowship has prepared me for these types of situations, such as leading the SGA or helping with Juntos. Because SCC is officially an HSI, I wanted to help bring the Hispanic voice out to the College. About a year ago I met a student named Hugo, a Juntos President of his region, and he inspired me to pay more attention to my people and start celebrating the fact that the College is an HSI. So, we should act like it!”
Sampson CC is very proud of Rutben and his accomplishments. The College looks forward to seeing all he will continue to do to strengthen the Latino voice and help students at the College succeed.
About Sampson Community College: Sampson Community College is a member of the North Carolina Community College System, located in Clinton, NC in Sampson County. The college offers many programs to include two-year degrees, college transfer, continuing education and workforce development options and early college education. SCC is committed to the principles of equal educational and employment opportunities for all.