When asked what young leaders can do right now to contribute to environmental sustainability initiatives, Legislative Correspondent for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Gil Ruiz says:
"We can do so much - especially here in this city. There's a place and a role for everybody, and we can certainly make the most of it. I did it, and if I can do it then there's thousands of other people out there who can do it too."
Ruiz firmly believes that Washington D.C. has a lot to offer budding changemakers, so long as they believe in the convictions of their dreams.
"The biggest thing needed from organizations today is your time and support. I was shocked when I moved to DC and saw how much one can do just by doing it!"
This was just one bit of advice during an enlightening discussion called "Effective Political Lobbying for the Environment" at AU's Kay Spiritual Life Center yesterday evening. Guests got a sneak peak into the world of environment advocacy, thanks to the Fall Semester Environmental Speaker Series hosted in part by the American University Sustainability. For those who missed it, among the speakers was Washington Semester Program (WSP) alumnus, current Hill staffer, and Board of Directors member for Engage Globally - Gil Ruiz.
Since participating in Professor Heather Heckel's Sustainable Development Seminar in 2015, Ruiz has gone on to develop a strong voice in the realm of environmental policy. As a member of Senator Gillibrand's political staff, Gil helps address issues involving the environment, energy, and social security by communicating the Senator's platform to constituents and interest groups. Initially, Ruiz was set on attending medical school, had it not been for his resonating experience living, learning, and interning in the nation's capitol. It was in the middle of his semester in DC that he realized he needed to uproot his path to seek out a career in public service.
"It was the best decision of my life," he explains. "What you're getting is a crash course in the way that Washington DC works. When I saw how things operated here by the halfway point of the program, it drew me in because there was no way I could have been able to understand this if I was simply reading about it back at [my college town in] Texas or elsewhere."
While participating in the program, Ruiz interned at AARP as a researcher for The Journal and a contributor for various aging-centered public health projects between AARP and the World Health Organization. He realized a calling in public service after attending just one of Dr. Heather Heckel's Sustainable Development class. Dr. Heckel's semester-long seminar focused on the Sustainable Development goals set by the United Nations and diligently addressed how to achieve these goals through civic engagement and political action.
"Heather had identified so many world problems that had never even crossed my mind," explains Ruiz. "It was almost exactly what I was looking for as far as purpose-finding and soul-searching. I had finally identified that these were the things I wanted to talk about and do every day. I was enthralled with a feeling cannot fully describe."
Soon after, according to Ruiz, "the rest is history."
"Not only did I figure out what I cared about at a really critical point in my life, but I figured out how best to care about it," he says. "[I figured out] how to translate it into something that works for me in my career, in my personal life, and in [my overall sense of] happiness. That was big."
Whether one has a clear understanding of their career path or is open-minded to the possibilities ahead, Washington Semester Program alumni like Gil Ruiz speak highly of the impact that the program's experiential learning ethic provides.
And in regards to political lobbying, "it's one of the few industries where you have to get in there and be present and be part of it," explains Ruiz. "That's what Washington Semester Program does; it opens the doors of leading institutions, and you hear from guest speakers who do their job everyday. There's no replacement for that."