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Cal Poly Biology Student Receives CSU Trustees’ Award and $7,000 Scholarship

Christina Benitez Ruiz leans on a railing and smiles on a sunny day outside on campus.
Written By Jay Thompson | Photo by Joe Johnston

A Cal Poly biology student studying to become a medical practitioner who helps low-income minority groups gain better access to health care has received a 2023 California State University Trustees’ Scholar Award for Outstanding Achievement.

The awards are presented annually to one student from each of the CSU system’s 23 campuses.

Like her counterparts throughout the state, Christina Benitez Ruiz, a junior from Bakersfield, California, was selected for superior academic performance, personal accomplishments, community service and financial need.

The 20-year-old will receive a $7,000 scholarship as one of the four William Randolph Hearst Scholars. She and the other 22 awardees were publicly recognized Sept. 12 at the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach.

Benitez Ruiz was surprised and delighted by the award.

“I am excited,” she said, “since this prize will be very helpful for all of my expenses, from rent and auto insurance to phone bills, haircuts and others outside of my academic demands.”

The 2021 graduate of Kern County’s Mira Monte High School said she was attracted to Cal Poly’s biological sciences program and the Learn by Doing style of education, “as well as the environment in the classroom and downtown San Luis Obispo, and the inclusive campus communities and great programs such as Cal Poly Scholars and EOP that have helped me financially.”

A high school science educator helped inspire her to pursue a college education.

“My teacher Mrs. (Sandi) Torres had participated in genetics research,” Benitez Ruiz said. “I was inspired when she was teaching microbiology and a procedure to separate DNA molecules called gel electrophoresis. This was the first time I heard of new procedures and started to care more about science."

Her interest and passion grew as she took her first biology class at Cal Poly with Dr. Jamie Bunting and learned of the real-world impacts of science — specifically the development of a malaria vaccine as recently as 2020.

“My passion continues to grow, and I hope one day I will be able to have an inspiring team to help patients in need throughout developing countries.”

The first in her family to finish high school and attend college, Benitez Ruiz initially found Cal Poly daunting. Facing personal and academic challenges, she utilized campus resources that helped transform her into a successful, engaged student.

She also volunteers at a local elementary school, helping students hone their Spanish skills while strengthening hers. She appreciates watching students learn, enjoys interacting with kids, and shares wonderful experiences with them and their teachers.

Benitez Ruiz isn’t the only Mustang in her family. One of her four brothers is beginning his sophomore year at Cal Poly.

“We look out for and assist one another,” she said. “We both want to support our local communities, because we are also from low-income and minority backgrounds. That’s why I decided to minor in Spanish — to increase trust within my communities. When I’m a medical professional, they will recognize me and understand that I won’t stop until they are adequately cared for.”

Benitez Ruiz and the other CSU trustee honorees will receive more than $180,000 in scholarships collectively, thanks to the generous contributions from past and present CSU trustees and other donors.

“The life stories of these extraordinary students who have triumphed over personal hardships to stand among the university system’s most distinguished scholars are a testament to the transformative power of public higher education,” said CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester. “Through donor support, the CSU is able to provide students who have faced educational barriers the opportunity to pursue a college degree and apply their life experiences and classroom knowledge to elevate their communities and our great state.”

Each student scholarship bears the name of a donor. More than 440 students have been honored with the Trustees' Award since the scholarship program was established in 1984 by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation.

In 1999, the Hearst Foundation partnered with the CSU Board of Trustees to supplement the endowment with contributions from CSU Trustees, CSU Foundation board members and private donors.

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