Alumni Reflections: Ruby Oluoch

Ruby Oluoch encourages CLA students to prioritize curiosity, passion, and self-acceptance
Ruby Oluoch wears a white dress against a maroon backdrop

CLA is home to 186,201 alumni—alumni who are transforming their communities and the world. Every day, our graduates live out the promise and the value of a liberal arts education through their ability to think creatively and critically, communicate thoughtfully, and collaborate effectively. As the result, our world is better in 180,000+ unique ways. This month, we shed a spotlight on alumna Ruby Oluoch (BA '17, global studies), current executive director at the media arts nonprofit Pollen Midwest. Read about her time in CLA, the course that left a lasting impression, and her powerful advice for current students of color.

What did you study in CLA? What inspired you to pursue that path?

I majored in Global Studies. I was drawn to the course offerings—the department has a very broad offering of liberal arts studies, so you are learning about structures of power that organize our entire world, and the belief systems, the ideas, the art and culture that reinforce and challenge all of it. I also knew that I wanted to spend a significant amount of time studying abroad as a student, and several of the majors in CLA and Global Studies aligned with that. 

What advice would you give to prospective students? 

My advice to prospective students is to have the courage to really explore yourself, your interests, and your scholarship while in school. I say courage, because you need to be brave enough to see yourself first, accept who you are, and follow the path that leads you down—it might be a different path than you thought it would be.  

There is so much pressure as a student to study this or study that, major in this, intern here, go to that networking event, be president of this club…those can all be worthwhile and meaningful things to do, but the most important thing is to do those things out of a place of genuine curiosity and passion, not because you’re trying to tick the boxes or prove your worth to the institution.

The major advantage of going to a school with the size, resources, and influence of the U is that the opportunities are almost limitless for exploration. Almost any field of study, hobby, activity, sport, student group exists on campus and you can start exploring! And if you can’t find it, you  can find people who can help you start something of your own.

Lastly, the sooner you get comfortable asking for help, the more successful you will be in the long run. There is a lot of support available to you as a student, but you need to be comfortable asking and sometimes insisting upon getting the help you need to succeed.

What advice would you give to current students of color?

I’d give the same exact advice: have the courage to explore yourself, your interests, and your scholarship in school. The one thing I might add that honestly applies to all students is that you need to be careful and watchful for the ways the world asks you to aspire to whiteness as an ideal. It happens constantly.

I say this applies to all students, because every single person who lives in Minnesota is under this conscious and unconscious conditioning—the main difference is that some of us are closer in proximity to the ideal, and others are not. Students of color will be asked in a million implicit ways to negotiate more of themselves, their culture, their appearance in order to meet the standard. That can make your journey of self-exploration and self-acceptance even more challenging and scary, but it’s the most important thing you are going to do in your entire life.

What is your favorite memory from the U?

Most of my favorite memories are not scholastic in nature or necessarily even on campus…they are nights out with friends, or late night study groups bonding with others—really feeling like others were in the trenches with you. I also have unforgettable memories from my study abroad experiences in Istanbul, Turkey and the University of Cape Town, South Africa that I cherish. 

I have to add that my favorite course I took was Dakota History and Culture. I am born and raised in Minnesota, but that course was the first time I have ever felt connected to Minnesota as a place, or could feel proud to call it home.


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