Ruiz, who joined the U.S. Navy when she was 30, finished her medical laboratory technician (MLT) degree in the service, but her busy schedule and overseas travel made it almost impossible to work on her bachelor's.
That was until she learned about a program in clinical laboratory sciences (CLS) at UC's College of Allied Health Sciences.
Now in her late 30s, Ruiz is finally seeing her dream come true. In September, she will have completed her first year of UC's CLS program.
But Ruiz isn't even close to Cincinnati ... she's in Cairo, Egypt.
Ruiz is part of a growing trend to "distance learning." Across the country, these online programs offer students an opportunity they didn't have before--education on their own schedule.
That flexibility appeals to many nontraditional learners.
"We see lots of nontraditional students in our distance-learning program," says Linda Graeter, PhD, department chair of the college's analytical and diagnostic sciences department. "Many have full-time jobs and families. They come to us because they have been looking for something close to home and just can't find it. Some are just looking to finish a long-time education goal."
When Ruiz began the distance-learning program offered through UC, she was stationed in Qatar, a tiny country on the Persian Gulf. Her work there was extended just before classes were to begin.
"I had no textbook because it was waiting for me in Egypt," says Ruiz. "When it was even working, the Internet in Qatar was slower than dial-up."
Once back in Egypt, Ruiz says, the time difference forced her to do many of her online sessions at 3 or 4 a.m.
"Through all of that," she says, "I managed. And although I have been through a few more trips in the three quarters since I started, UC has been very accommodating."
Dr. Graeter says Ruiz is not unlike the other students using distance learning.
"Although she's in the military and living in another country," says Dr. Graeter, "Bridget's story sounds similar to that of others enrolled in our program ... students wanting to fulfill a dream, not knowing if they ever will, and then learning about what we have to offer. We really believe we're providing a great service to those who want to further their education."
Distance-learning programs are quite advanced and offer the very intense workload of many on-campus programs, Dr. Graeter says. For that reason, they are not identified any differently on transcripts.
"Our students graduate with a bachelor's degree from the University of Cincinnati," says Dr. Graeter. "They're finding jobs in hospitals, research facilities, pharmaceutical companies and toxicology labs, and some are working with DNA and forensics."
Clinical experiences and job recruitment don't seem to be a problem either. On-campus students all compete for the same clinical or laboratory positions--experiences that often lead to employment. But there are limited possibilities near each college town or city, Dr. Graeter notes.
"Distance-learning students, however, are beginning our program with a completed MLT degree and are often already employed in labs. They can finish the clinical portion of their degree right where they work," she says.
Ruiz, in fact, is a lab technician at a Navy Medical Research Center. The team interacts with several organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health.
"Our primary goal is to conduct medical research of military importance in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asian countries, and also improve civilian public health in the regions," says Ruiz. "We've been involved in clinical studies of deployed military personnel with hopes that our findings improve health conditions for the troops when they're abroad."
"This program and the staff mean the world to me," says Ruiz. "They're helping me accomplish a goal that I thought was out of reach.