As involved in and dedicated to Meridian as Erin Ruiz is, you might be surprised to find out that her position here came about somewhat accidentally. The story is that Dean Dittmar, a Program Advisor for Facilitating Coordination in Agricultural Education, was trying to recruit Erin’s father to teach agriculture at Meridian.
Growing Student Potential
Her dad wasn’t interested in the position, but told Mr. Dittmar, “You should call my daughter.” Dittmar did call Erin to discuss the position, an interview was arranged, and within a week Meridian had a new Ag teacher.
She was just 21, and had no prior teaching experience. Perhaps even more surprising, she had no college degree, having interrupted her education when she became pregnant with her first child. What she did have, however, was a vast store of agricultural knowledge and experience, accumulated through a life lived on her family’s farm. This was her ticket to a provisional license to teach agriculture, and along with that, sponsorship of the Meridian FFA chapter. “FFA goes with the classes,” she explains. “It kind of goes hand-in-hand.”
“I had no experience. I didn’t even have FFA at my high school,” she remembers. “I’ve always loved agriculture, but didn’t really know anything about FFA until this job. It kind of fell into my lap.” But she picked it up and ran with it. When she started at Meridian, there were just 11 students participating in FFA. Now, there are 40, and the program continues to grow. During Erin’s tenure as sponsor, five students have earned their FFA State Degree, the highest degree a member can earn at the state level. “It’s just grown a whole lot, and I’ve fallen in love with it,” she enthuses.
No doubt a big part of that sustained growth is the focus Ruiz puts on outreach to non-traditional FFA members. “I knew after the first year that I could not direct this program toward just farm kids, or it wouldn’t go anywhere,” she says. To that end, the program is geared toward helping students understand how agriculture is important to everyone, not just to farmers. She also puts a big emphasis on development of leadership skills, which apply equally well to careers within agriculture and outside of it. She tries to get her students to think bigger than the familiar community they have grown up in, beyond the local colleges and employers. “I want them to know that they have potential to do whatever they want to do,” she says. “I try to get them to see there’s more out there, there’s more to life.” Practicing what she preaches, Erin is currently taking classes toward finishing the degree she began years ago.
Not surprisingly, Mrs. Ruiz is an animal lover, given her well-documented affinity for all things agriculture. An equine enthusiast since she was a child, she currently has two horses, along with two dogs. The only thing keeping her from having more animals is the fact that she and her family love to travel, and do so often. She has visited 41 of the 50 states, but says that Colorado is “like a second home.” In fact, if given a magic wand to use only once however she wished, she would wish herself to a cabin in the woods.
But, for her students, Erin would wish for them to all have a support system that gave them the security and confidence they need to pursue their dreams without reservation. “I want them to know that they have potential, and are capable of doing great things,” she says earnestly.
But for many Meridian students, past and present, that support system that Erin wishes for is closer than ever, if not an actual reality. And that is thanks, in no small part, to hard-working, dedicated educators like Mrs. Ruiz.