Cynthia Ruiz grew up in Highland Park. The second of four children, she is the only one in her family to have gone to college. She graduated from Cal State LA in 1978 with a bachelor's degree in Chicano Studies and rehabilitation counseling, and in 1980 with a master’s in rehabilitation counseling.
“I was thinking about EOP and what it’s done for my life and how it’s changed my life. I’m so proud of the fact that Cal State LA is number one in the nation for upward mobility because that’s what it did for me. I started off on welfare and last month was appointed president of the city’s pension fund, overseeing a $17 billion budget.
My parents divorced when I was seven. I had a lot of instability in my life. Nobody in my world had gone to college but I knew that if I wanted a different life, something other than being surrounded by gangs and drugs and all the negativity, that college was my way out.
Cal State LA was the only school where I applied. I was happy. It was close to home. I graduated high school in 1973 and started college in the fall. I was excited at the opportunity, but I was scared of the unknown. I didn't have family support. My parents didn't give me a dollar to buy a book.
I always had an interest in helping people so I started off in psychology. But I didn't like it because it was a lot of experimental psychology. I wanted to work with people and I got into rehabilitation counseling.
I was very involved on campus. I was president of MECHA. I was elected in student government. I was the women’s representative in student government.
College would have been much more difficult [without EOP]; I would have been much more isolated. EOP became my support network with friends and a place to hang out. They gave me guidance in what classes to take, the basics of college. It was the support I needed that I didn’t get on the outside from family or friends.
As it turns out a few years later, I worked as an EOP counselor because I was very committed to helping people. Because I was first generation and went through challenges, I’m now very big on giving back.
It’s been a very, very lovely ride. I’m so grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve had. Without EOP, without Cal State LA I probably would have gone to community college and that’s a different path. I think community colleges are great, but EOP and Cal State LA accelerated my path. Because I’m motivated and I’m driven, I would have gotten somewhere, but I don’t think I would have had the same opportunities.”
Cynthia has reinvented herself many times. She started out in rehabilitation counseling, owned a business for 15 years working with worker’s compensation recipients, was appointed to the Los Angeles Public Works Commission and, later, became President of the Board of Public Works. She was also Deputy Executive Director of External Relations for the Port of Los Angeles. Currently, she runs her own executive coaching firm, is a published author, is involved with Girls Today, Women Tomorrow and is the founder the Wise Latina Network. She was recently appointed president of the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) Board of Administration.