By Stephen Barker
March 17, 2022
The pathway from a high school diploma to a postsecondary degree is not always a straight line. For OneGoal alum in Massachusetts, Esvin Ruiz, the journey has been full persistence through unexpected detours, including several frightening health challenges and a unique program offering financial aid help.
The summer before his first year of college, OneGoal class of 2018 alum Esvin Ruiz was ready to begin his postsecondary journey at Gordon College, a small private school just North of Boston, situated along the Atlantic coast. Esvin knew he would have to seek financial aid help and take out loans to make up the difference between his financial aid package and the school’s hefty tuition and student housing costs.. Still, until the week before classes began, Esvin was too focused on earning his business degree to worry about the price tag.
Ultimately, taking on the sizable student loan debt started to unsettle Esvin. “Everything was all set,” he explained. “I had all my paperwork, I was ready to move onto campus, but even with financial aid, I was about to take out a loan for $20,000 for my first year for a business degree. And I’m thinking, this is not really making sense to me anymore.”
Once Esvin decided to stay home, work, and save a bit of money before pursuing a postsecondary pathway, disaster struck.
Esvin was coping with some bad news during an evening out with friends near his home in Salem, New Hampshire. He was just let go from the full-time job he landed after missing too many shifts due to recurring migraines and dizziness. “I didn’t think too much of it; like everyone gets headaches, so I just thought, ‘this is normal.’” To his friends’ shock, that night Esvin began vomiting uncontrollably, and as they drove him to the hospital, he started losing consciousness.
The Salem emergency room doctors could see that Esvin’s symptoms were consistent with a possible brain abnormality, thus beyond their scope of care. As Esvin lay helpless on a gurney in a helicopter during the airlift to Massachusettes General in Boston, the abnormal tangle of blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in Esvin’s brain, known as an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), ruptured, causing a massive internal hemorrhage. Esvin had emergency brain surgery, which saved his life.
Since Esvin’s first brain surgery, the road to recovery has been long and painful: “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t speak, I had no memory collection, and I permanently lost certain fields of vision.” But during one of the many extended hospital stays, an unexpected visit from Esvin’s OneGoal Program Director Maureen Santiago marked a turning point in his rehabilitation, “that was kind of one of the most impactful moments in my life,” said Esvin, through tears.
Maureen first met Esvin working as a middle school teacher when he joined the chess club she ran. “I have been in the role as his teacher for almost ten years,” shared Maureen. When his grades started slipping in high school, Esvin says it was Maureen who encouraged him to join OneGoal.
“She kind of guided me,” explained Esvin. “Because of Maureen, I’ve met a lot of lifelong friends from my OneGoal cohort, and they are still a big part of my support system, so I’m pretty grateful for her.”
After four brain surgeries, therapies, and countless medical interventions, Esvin’s health has stabilized, and he’s looking toward the future. Through his full-time job in the Electronics department at Walmart, Esvin is persistently working toward an Associate’s degree from Guild, which offers financial aid help through low-cost or debt-free quality education opportunities via partnerships with Fortune 1000 companies.
OneGoal is also partnering with Guild, thanks in part to Esvin’s participation in the program. Fellows in any OneGoal region can access Guild’s financial aid help after applying and being offered a role from one of the Guild employment partners such as Walmart, Chipotle, Lowe’s, and several others.
Despite residual brain fog from his medical condition, Esvin has earned a Web Application Development Certificate from Wilmington University, enrolled in his second year as a Software Engineering Fellow at Hack.Diversity, and plans to seek a Bachelor’s after completing his two-year degree program, with the goal of becoming a computational neuroscientist. “You shouldn’t be surprised that I’m interested in the brain after all this,” Esvin joked.
“Life has handed Esvin many obstacles since leaving high school, but he does not use this as a crutch to stop moving forward,” said Maureen. “He has literally taken the words I preached his senior year, that ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’, and pursued his dream of higher education.”
Esvin, like many OneGoal Fellows and first-generation students, veered from the traditional pathway into postsecondary education. His journey underscores the need for a differentiated approach to advising, financial aid help, and caring Program Directors like Maureen Santiago, who added, “when Esvin feels he cannot move on, not only am I a phone call away, but his OneGoal classmates are there to pick him back up and remind him how far he has come.”