A passion for teaching and love for debate has launched Robert Ruiz, director of forensics, instructor of speech communication and debate coach, into success after success.
During his past three years as coach, Ruiz has brought back the glory days of when he was on the very same debate team. He organized last year’s National Debate Championships hosted at University of La Verne and the team came in eighth beating out Harvard, USC, UCLA and Duke.
“That was two years of planning, one year of just hard work,” Ruiz said.
“I’ll never forget being in my office from 8 a.m. to 4 a.m. during the last two weeks before the event.”
Now on their way to Purdue for this year’s Nationals, Ruiz and the debate team expect even better results than last year.
“Everyone knows La Verne now when we travel – not that they didn’t before,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz is 39, married to Jennifer Ruiz, and has two sons who are 11 and 13.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and then his master’s degree in education, both from ULV.
Ruiz also has a master’s degree from Cal State San Bernardino in social sciences and is currently working on his doctorate at ULV for organizational leadership.
It was during his college years when he discovered debate.
“I had never debated in high school,” Ruiz said. “So it struck me as this highly intellectual activity.”
Although Ruiz enjoyed debate, he never considered coaching a team until his debate coach Ian Lising, assistant professor of speech and debate, approached him to.
“It wasn’t until some changes happened in this department, Ian Lising and I were speaking and he said, ‘Come help out with teaching and debate, you have your master’s.’ But when I got here, I saw this opportunity to just make it as great as when I was part of it,” Ruiz said.
After taking on the coaching position, Ruiz gained the love and respect of his debaters. Several look up to him as a mentor and consider him their favorite coach.
“From the beginning he took me under his wing, not just through debate but also just through becoming accustomed to La Verne,” said Brittany Boiko, junior speech communication and political science major and debate team member.
“Not only is he awesome as a role model or debater or professor, but just as a person,” Boiko said.
“Anyone that knows Rob knows that he is such a real person, and I love his sense of humor. He is just a well-rounded person, and to me that is a perfect mentor.”
“He’s like a player’s coach, I guess,” said Sam French, senior speech communication and debate captain. “Rob would be more like the Phil Jackson of debate where you have the Zen master who is super patient with everybody but simultaneously challenging you to be better than you are.”
The students are Ruiz’s favorite part about teaching.
“That is pretty inspiring,” Ruiz said. “Little do they know that I’m probably learning as much from them as they are from me.”
He loves to see the growth of his students and watch the environment of the debate team as new members.
When Ruiz took over three years ago, there were about 11 people on the team with only three women. Now, there are over 33 people and the women outnumber the men.
Ruiz said that besides the performance scholarship offered and club fairs, debate team’s biggest recruitment tool is their success.
They have also taken over Bonita High School’s debate team and three members of ULV debate coach the team.
By doing this, they have more high school students looking to attend ULV and join the debate team.
“It’s a different social environment because it’s like a family, but in an academic setting,” said Mary Anne Mendoza, senior political science and speech communication major and debate team member.
The family environment of the debate team stems from Ruiz’s own family.
Jennifer Ruiz said that he coached all of their sons’ sports teams and volunteered at their school play this year.
Since becoming debate coach, Ruiz has missed several holidays with his family while traveling with the team.
“You know, that is the trade off,” Jennifer Ruiz said. “Because he loves what he does so much that as a family we understand that he has to make those kinds of sacrifices and we totally support him being able to do those things.”
Mendoza said that Ruiz is a father figure to her, and Boiko said that he made her grandparents nametags for National’s last year saying, “University of La Verne Grandparent.”
Ruiz also teaches several speech communication classes each semester, from Speech 100 to Political Communication.
His favorite class, however, is Speech 100 because he has students from different disciplines and gets to teach them how fun public speaking is.
“Every semester when we negotiate our classes, no matter how many I teach, I want public speaking because that represents La Verne,” Ruiz said.
Currently, his speech and debate classes are discussing what is happening in Crimea and the implications of Russia occupying it.
Another favorite topic the classes and debate team discuss are women’s issues.
“I wish many students who are just interested in debate, but maybe felt intimidated or worried, that my whole concept of debate is I want these individuals who are new to the event to just come see what it is like,” Ruiz said.
“Go on a debate trip and see the environment we create. We build people, we don’t just build great debaters.”
On top of balancing family life, coaching and teaching, Ruiz is in the process of writing his dissertation on female participation in collegiate debate.
Also, he has recently received a grant with Lising, Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Kathleen Weaver and Associate Professor of Biology Jerome Garcia for a new program called STEAM (Sciences, Technology, Engineering, Art of Debate and Mathematics.)
“I’m trying to take debate to the next level,” Ruiz said.
“We got a grant to work with freshmen bio students in the future to teach them public speaking.”
Hayley Hulin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.