Penn State Harrisburg faculty member receives national Mentor Award

Harrisburg, Pa. — For more than a decade, Penn State Harrisburg criminal justice faculty member James Ruiz has gained a stellar reputation for his commitment to mentor students during their time at the college — and following graduation.

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) formally recognized that dedication when it recently presented the associate professor of criminal justice its 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award during the annual conference in San Diego.

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 explained, “Academics is my second life.”

Following retirement from the New Orleans force, he began a career as a college student, culminating in a doctorate in criminal justice from Sam Houston State University in Texas.

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

A faculty member in Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Public Affairs since 2000, Ruiz also teaches in the online bachelor of science in criminal justice program offered by the campus through Penn State World Campus: Ruiz says he is most proud of the array of accomplishments recorded by the students he has mentored. 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 and books.

Professor of Criminal Justice Barbara Sims, the coordinator of the academic programs in that discipline at Penn State Harrisburg said, “Those of us who work with Dr. Ruiz know of the long and extensive history he has with mentoring both undergraduate and graduate students. He has a way of recognizing exceptional talent in students and engaging that talent in scholarly activities. There is no doubt that our students have been well served by Dr. Ruiz, and we are pleased to see that the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences has rewarded him for his efforts.”

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

Erin Morrow, a 2003 graduate, wrotes, “He [Ruiz] approached managing the class in a unique fashion that combined encouraging students to think through problems and solutions, debate topics and enhance writing skills. To this day, Dr. Ruiz has developed from my assigned adviser, to professor, to co-author, to mentor. His interactions with his students outlast finals, semesters and graduations. He establishes a lifelong relationship to offer his availability to assist in the future.”

Kathleen Winters, a doctoral candidate at The Ohio State University, added, “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” for a class and make up his mind on continuing his studies. “My first class was with Dr. Ruiz and he quickly made the decision for me. Working with Ruiz, Burckhardt’s research won graduate student paper awards from the Northeastern Association of Criminal Justice Educators and the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Justice Educators. “Dr. Ruiz has not only sought to further the criminal justice field, but to improve individual lives. He ultimately guided me on the road to becoming a Pennsylvania State Trooper.”

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.” Lee explained, “As an international student [from South Korea] 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. Thanks to him, I finished my master’s studies in two years with three prestigious awards. Most recently, my first publication with his co-authorship came out in a journal. The best gift he gave me, however, was the self-confidence with which I have been able to push myself to the next levels of academic life.”

Phil Kavanaugh, now an assistant professor of sociology at Shepherd University in West Virginia, said, “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.” When Kavanaugh began considering graduate education, Ruiz invited him to assist in a research project. “The preliminary findings of the work were presented at the 2002 ACJS meetings in Anaheim. And last year, when I was in the job market, Dr. Ruiz was again a source of support and also provided helpful tips on preparing for phone and campus interviews and even negotiating offers.”

Penn State World Campus specializes in adult online education, delivering more than 60 of Penn State’s most highly regarded graduate, undergraduate and professional education programs through convenient online formats. Founded in 1998, Penn State World Campus is the University’s 25th campus serving more than 9,600 students in all 50 states and 62 countries. For more information, visit online. Penn State World Campus is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.


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Last Updated January 09, 2015