By Doug Erickson
Art inspired and empowered Dawry Ruiz as a teenager. Now he hopes to spread its motivating force to other young people.
Ruiz, a UW–Madison junior, will have help in that career goal as the recipient of a 2022 Truman Scholarship, one of the most prestigious honors for undergraduates in the country.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to the late president. Its mission is to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. Ruiz, of Boston, Massachusetts, is working toward a career in the nonprofit youth arts field.
“This is a tremendous honor for Dawry and a reflection on his amazing talent and accomplishments,” says Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor. “As the recipient of a Truman Scholarship, he joins an elite group of students whose achievements stand out nationally. We are so proud of Dawry and know he will go on to do many great things.”
Ruiz is one of 58 new Truman Scholars in the country this year out of 705 candidates nominated by 275 colleges and universities. Each winner will receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programming as part of the Truman Scholar cohort.
Ruiz is majoring in community and nonprofit leadership through the School of Human Ecology, with a certificate in arts and teaching through the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. He credits a summer program at age 14 in radio journalism through the East Boston-based nonprofit ZUMIX for setting him on a path that would lead to hip-hop, theater, spoken-word performance, and other artistic endeavors.
“Without them, I would not be where I am today as a performer and realizing the importance of community organizing,” he says.
At 17, Ruiz was invited to lecture to undergraduates and graduate students in a class at Harvard University on “Storytelling and Global Justice.” He went on to be a teaching artist, featured performer, and workshop facilitator at HipHopEX at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, all while still in high school.
At UW–Madison, Ruiz is a member of the 12th cohort of the First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community. The full-tuition, four-year scholarship program helps recipients develop their craft as part of a high-level artistic community alongside faculty, staff, and nationally renowned spoken word and hip-hop artists. First Wave students pursue their academic and career goals by studying fields that merge their artistic interests with professional development. Ruiz recently was a featured artist at the 2022 Line Breaks Hip Hop Theater Festival, where he performed his original piece, “Speakeasy.”
“I am very grateful for programs such as First Wave that tailor to students who fall into such niche intersections,” Ruiz wrote in his Truman Scholarship application. “As a first-generation Dominican American, telling my immigrant mother she would not have to worry financially about my education was a feat I did not think I could reach.”
Ruiz is the second member of the First Wave community to become a Truman Scholar, following Deshawn McKinney in 2016.
Ruiz has been heavily involved in volunteer work and public service throughout his college years. He is the development director for the local arts nonprofit JVN Project and a teaching artist for Madison School and Community Recreation and Whoopensocker, a community arts outreach program based at the UW School of Education.
As a student assistant for the Division of the Arts, Ruiz devised a new initiative called the Arts Crawl, creating an opportunity for pre-college youth, current UW students, faculty, and staff to experience art across campus. In his work with University Housing’s Studio Learning Community, he also started a podcast focused on creating a sense of belonging for artists in residence halls and helping them navigate campus.
“While many young people may have the qualities of great leadership, Dawry has fully immersed himself as a community steward in character and in practice,” says Sofía Snow, director of UW–Madison’s Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives, home to First Wave.
Erica Halverson, who runs the Whoopensocker program and is a professor with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, says Ruiz demonstrates “a unique combination of artistic excellence, hard work, and kindness,” calling him “a rising star in community arts leadership and social justice work.”
Ruiz says he’s still processing the Truman Scholarship award.
“Being a recipient of the Truman Scholarship does the same thing that getting the First Wave Scholarship does: it shows me people care and that what I want to do is possible,” he says. “While I do have artistic career goals, I also have academic career goals. Getting this scholarship, I am one step closer to the reality of combining those paths.”
As a Truman Scholar, Ruiz plans to pursue a master’s degree in education through the Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship Program at Harvard University — an academic progression he says has been a “dream path” since a young age. His goal is to “educate, lead, and empower diverse youth and underrepresented communities” through art.
“My own experiences influence and inform my path into public service,” he says. “To even imagine a future where I’d work in public service is unbelievable to my 14-year-old self. I desire to be an example to youth who look like me, showing there is a pathway to being successful within the arts.”
Soyeon Shim, dean of the School of Human Ecology, says Ruiz is living proof of the powerful combination of creativity, empathy and action to help inspire others to reach new heights of success.
“We are so proud of Dawry and all that he has achieved in his academic life, artistic journeys, and community service,” Shim says. “His example is empowering, especially to youth from diverse backgrounds.”
Another UW–Madison student, junior Angela Maloney of Madison, was a Truman Scholarship finalist this year. She is double-majoring in community and nonprofit leadership and international studies with certificates in public policy, Chicano/a and Latina/o studies, development economics and leadership. Maloney has been involved in grassroots organizing and serves as a caseworker in the office of Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers. She plans to focus her career on expanding working-class representation in elected offices at all levels of government.
Other recent Truman Scholars from UW–Madison include Tina Marshalek (2020), Shiloah Coley (2019), Jordan Madden (2018) and Deshawn McKinney (2016). A complete list of UW’s Truman Scholars and finalists can be found here.
This story originally appeared on news.wisc.edu.