Family ties

When family members have the experience of attending UC Santa Cruz in common, they've walked the same paths—contributing to a sense of pride, connection, and shared values

Jerry Ruiz (Crown '77, economics) was the first member of his family to go to college, ins
Jerry Ruiz (Crown '77, economics) was the first member of his family to go to college, inspiring his four younger brothers, who also attended UC Santa Cruz. Ruiz has served on the UC Santa Cruz Alumni Council for the past 10 years, including two years as president.
Alums Bob and Madeline Rose Ann met as students at UC Santa Cruz; both have parents who ar

Alums Bob and Madeline Rose Ann met as students at UC Santa Cruz; both have parents who are also alumni, and their children and siblings are either alumni or are connected with the campus, as well. Pictured are (standing, left to right): Margaret Salaz Green, Naomi Salaz (Crown '81, education), Stephanie Weber (Crown '14, electrical engineering), Madeline Rose Ann Weber, Marie Weber, and Bob Weber (Crown '84, biology). (Seated) Richard Salaz (Merrill '72, community studies) and Barbara Weber (Kresge '95, American studies). All of these family members attended UC Santa Cruz in one way or another. (Photo courtesy Bob Weber)

Max Levin (photo courtesy UC Santa Cruz Special Collections)

Max Levin (photo courtesy UC Santa Cruz Special Collections)

Samuel Levin at a workshop in Honduras

Samuel Levin at a workshop in Honduras

Naomi Andrews (Alastra and Andrews family photos courtesy Deborah Alastra)

Naomi Andrews (Alastra and Andrews family photos courtesy Deborah Alastra)

Jerry Ruiz grew up in a small town outside Visalia. His parents never went to high school, but Ruiz was a stellar student and earned excellent grades.

However, it wasn't until an educational opportunities coordinator from UC Santa Cruz reached out to him that his dream of going to college became a reality.

Ruiz (Crown '77, economics) is now a successful lawyer in Los Angeles. As the first member of his family to go to college, he inspired his four younger brothers, who also attended UC Santa Cruz.

The Ruiz brothers' story illustrates what educational studies have suggested over the years; when a sibling goes off to college, or a parent returns to school later in life, this act of ambition and bravery will encourage others in the family to follow their example.

But it's more than just a question of inspiring and emboldening family members to attend the same university. Family ties also make a college career a smoother and more comfortable ride—even for insecure first-year students—while increasing pride, connection, and a strong sense of shared values.

In its 50 years, UC Santa Cruz has inspired many family members to share the experience of attending—then becoming proud alumni. We tell some of their stories here.

Paving the way

"My mother was very good at reinforcing the idea that education was very important," said Ruiz. "When we were young we had no excuse not to get out of bed and go to school."

Roberto Rubalcava, then-director of UC Santa Cruz's Educational Opportunity Program, reached out to Ruiz and recruited him.

When he arrived at UC Santa Cruz, Ruiz immediately felt like he was part of a community. He found a close circle of friends and helped to establish a Latino-themed dorm on campus.

Ruiz now mentors youth from underserved communities and directs them toward college careers, attends the campus's Multicultural Career Conference, and serves on the UC Santa Cruz Alumni Council, which supports student scholarships.

He said that Latino families embrace that spirit of the "pioneer student" who sets a good example for his brothers and sisters and paves the way for them.

"Convincing the first in the family to go far from home is the hardest sell," said Ruiz. "Once the first one goes, the rest of the family usually follows."

The same principle held true for Freddy Ruiz (Crown '80, psychology), who felt safe and secure about attending UC Santa Cruz because his brother was a senior there while he was an incoming first-year student. A large circle of mentors and friends awaited him when he arrived.

"Jerry was the flight lead," said Freddy Ruiz, a former Air Force Judge Advocate Officer. "I was just a kid. He was a smart guy, and I knew he'd picked a school where we were going to do great."

Freddy Ruiz is now a lawyer in San Antonio, but he still spends several weeks a year in Santa Cruz, and is encouraging his stepdaughter to apply to UC Santa Cruz next year.

"I wish everyone in life had a chance to go to school in Santa Cruz," said Freddy Ruiz. "They'd never regret it."

All in the family

Naomi Salaz (Crown '81, education) was also inspired by a family member to attend UC Santa Cruz. But it was her father, Richard Salaz (Merrill '72, community studies), who came to UC Santa Cruz as an older adult with five children. The same EOP director who inspired Ruiz to come to the school recruited him.

"My dad was the oldest student at the time with the most kids," said Salaz.

Richard Salaz attended a junior college in Colorado before he got married. He studied in Mexico City for two years. Then he came back to the United States and had five kids. He decided to move out to California.

"He moved out here to California because there were so many opportunities for work," said Naomi Salaz. "But when he got out here, he was working in a factory and he wasn't happy at all."

UC Santa Cruz opened up a different world, exposing him to an intellectual environment and the wild creativity of the bohemian and "hippie" culture of the late '60s and early '70s.

"Dad said the reason he went back to school was to be a role model for his kids, to show that it was never too late to get an education," Naomi Salaz said. "He also wanted to expose us to campus life."

She lived in the dorms at Crown for all five years of her college career, graduated, and went on to become an elementary school teacher in Salinas.

But she was not the only one to follow her father. Both of Naomi's sisters also attended UC Santa Cruz. Her sister Rose Ann met her future husband Bob Weber (Crown '84, biology) in the dorms of Crown College.

"It was really meant to be," Weber said. "We were from such different backgrounds and probably wouldn't have met anywhere else."

Weber himself is a fount of "all in the family" stories about UC Santa Cruz.

His father worked for the State Department, so the family travelled abroad when he was younger. He didn't know much about schools in the United States, so he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Jon, who received his Ph.D in chemistry from UC Santa Cruz. His three younger sisters, Ann, Catherine, and Elisabeth, also graduated from UC Santa Cruz.

But the family connections don't stop there. His sister Catherine was married to another alum on campus. After seeing the rich educational opportunities at her children's school, Weber's mom, Barbara, was also inspired to attend UC Santa Cruz after Weber's father retired from the State Department.

"I think we all really believed in the educational philosophy of UC Santa Cruz," said Weber, now a doctor in Watsonville.

In total, at least a dozen of Weber's family members have attended UC Santa Cruz. His daughter, Marie, will be getting married on campus in September.

The third generation of Webers and Salazes now has alumni ties to UC Santa Cruz.

Weber's daughter, Stephanie (Crown '14, electrical engineering), said she felt her family's connection to the university was something very special.

"It was pretty neat being in a dorm right across the quad from the dorm where my parents met," she said.

Family Ties - Salaz and Weber Families

Deep connection

Sometimes the connection to campus goes even deeper. Max Levin, father of Deborah Alastra (Porter '83, fine arts), was a founder of Crown College. He served as the senior preceptor at Crown and was a faculty member in the psychology department until his retirement in 1981. Her mother, Dorothy Levin, was a counselor at Porter for many years.

Alastra attended a small alternative high school in England for her senior year of high school. The only college she applied to was UC Santa Cruz. She was accepted, started her studies at Cowell, and, like her father, left a mark on campus. She helped build the original A-frame at the college and worked on the stained-glass window at the Cowell Library. She took a break from school and returned when she was 26 to Porter College. Now she is a children's book illustrator in Oakland.

Alastra's niece, Naomi Andrews (Cowell '88, history), decided to attend UC Santa Cruz because her grandparents lived in Santa Cruz. She received her Ph.D in history from UC Santa Cruz and is now an associate professor of history at Santa Clara University.

When she was at UC Santa Cruz, the campus was small but growing quickly. The faculty were part of a tightly knit group that didn't change much over the years. She lived in one half of a duplex, and her aunt, Deborah, lived in the other half. "She was more like a much older sister," Andrews said.

Andrews's younger brother, Josh, attended UC Santa Cruz and had some of the same professors as his sister.

"I grew up spending a lot of time in Santa Cruz," said Josh Andrews (Stevenson '97, history). "My sister started grad school when I was a freshman. It was good for me to be where my family was." Josh Andrews is now a lawyer at Uber, the San Francisco-based rideshare and taxiservice company.

The Andrews's cousin, Samuel Levin (College Eight '08, health sciences), said Santa Cruz attracted him because three generations of his family lived there— people he didn't get to see often growing up. It was also the most desirable school for him with a strong reputation in the sciences. He was thrilled when one of his human physiology professors spoke fondly of his grandfather.

Besides, turning UC Santa Cruz into a family affair made it comfortable right from the beginning.

"It was nice to have familiar faces in a new city after leaving home," said Levin. "I am proud to be a graduate of the same university where my family attended and worked. Seeing their lives and their work, success, and lifestyle make me proud to be a part of the same education they had."

Amy Ettinger is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz.