James Ruiz earns national mentoring award

For more than a decade, Penn State Harrisburg Associate Professor of Criminal Justice James Ruiz has gained a stellar reputation for his commitment to mentor students during their time at the campus and following graduation.

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences formally recognized that dedication when it recently presented Ruiz with its 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award during the annual conference in San Diego, Calif.

A veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard who spent 20 years as a police officer and platoon commander in the New Orleans Police Department, Ruiz calls academics his second life. Following retirement from the New Orleans force, he became a college student, culminating in a doctorate in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University in Texas.

Ruiz brings his law enforcement background into the classroom, “but I don’t like telling war stories,” he said. “I weave my experiences into the curriculum to touch on the here and now, bringing the street into the classroom for critical discussion.”

At Penn State Harrisburg since 2000, Ruiz is most proud his students’ accomplishments. More than 30 of those undergraduate and graduate students have been invited to present their research at conferences and 18 have had articles published in peer-reviewed journals.

Perhaps it is students who best describe Ruiz’ commitment to their growth as scholars and professionals.

Joongyeup Lee, a 2008 master’s degree graduate from Penn State Harrisburg and now a doctoral candidate in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University, Refers to Ruiz as “my lifetime mentor.” He explains, “As an international student who came to the USA with a mind half with hope and the other half with apprehension, my master’s studies were more than a turning point in my life course. Dr. Ruiz offered me a mentorship after I met him in the first week of my studies. He taught me how to talk, write, read and even think in an academic manner.”

Kathleen Winters, a doctoral candidate at Ohio State, adds, “Dr. Ruiz was my undergraduate Criminal Justice adviser from August 2004 through May 2006. At his urging, I presented a paper at the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Justice Educators during my junior year. That same year I also collaborated with Dr. Ruiz in conducting research based on FBI records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act regarding drug profiling in traffic stops in Louisiana. He is actually a big reason I decided to go into academia.”

In fall 1997, Charles Burckhardt Jr. had just completed his first year as a police officer for a suburban department and decided to enroll in the master’s program in Criminal Justice thinking he would “try it out.” His first class was with Ruiz and he made the decision to continue. Working with Ruiz, his research won graduate student paper awards from the Northeastern and Pennsylvania associations of Criminal Justice Educators. “Dr. Ruiz ultimately guided me on the road to becoming a Pennsylvania State Trooper.”

Dr. Phil Kavanaugh, now an assistant professor of sociology at Shepherd University in West Virginia, says, “Dr. Ruiz has been a constant source of support during my time as an undergraduate student in Criminal Justice at Penn State Harrisburg and through my graduate work at Washington State University and the University of Delaware.”

Barbara Sims, coordinator of Penn State Harrisburg’s criminal justice programs, says, “Those of us who work with Dr. Ruiz know of his long and extensive history of mentoring undergraduate and graduate students. He has a way of recognizing exceptional talent in students and engaging that talent in scholarly activities.”

Last Updated March 29, 2010