Student Karen Ruiz-Ayala awarded 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship

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USF College of Public Health (COPH) undergraduate student Karen Ruiz-Ayala was awarded the 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Scholarship by the USF Black Alumni Society on January 15 during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Virtual Dedication Luncheon.

The MLK Scholarship was established to recognize and assist a USF student who best represents the ideals and philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recipients demonstrate academic excellence, community spirit and articulate their passion and desire to be a positive force at USF.

Student Karen Ruiz- Ayala (Photo courtesy of Ruiz-Ayala)
Student Karen Ruiz- Ayala (Photo courtesy of Ruiz-Ayala)

“It’s a great honor to receive this award,” Ruiz-Ayala said. “I take pride in the fact that I am doing something worthwhile with my time and am helping others, both now with my volunteer work and in the future with my career in public health. Furthermore, this scholarship will help me, financially, to continue my education. Every dollar I earn through scholarship is another minute that I can put toward studying instead of working.”

During her award application process, Ruiz-Ayala, a Dean’s List student with a 3.93 GPA, had to demonstrate academic achievement. She also discussed her volunteer activities, which has included working as a tutor during school closures to provide additional support to students with math, reading and writing. As a board member of the COPH’s Activist Lab, she also works daily on being an advocate for major areas of public health.

Ruiz-Ayala is pursuing her BSPH with a dual specialization in infection control and global health.

She says that her public health passion is its history.

“Although there will always be the shiny new breakthrough, I think it’s important that we appreciate what the past has given us. In addition to general public health history, I am very interested in the history of infectious diseases,” she said. “My first exposure to public health and infectious diseases was reading “The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story,” by Richard Preston. I hope to be able to do more research and foster my love for public health history as I go forward.”

After her expected Fall 2021 graduation, Ruiz-Ayala is planning on continuing her education as a graduate student at USF. She would eventually like to earn a MPH with a combined concentration in epidemiology and global communicable diseases at the COPH.

“Ultimately, I would like to work with infectious diseases, particularly novel and reemerging infectious diseases, whether that be in a lab or through research,” she said. “I have always been fascinated by how outbreaks can cause so much damage and, in some cases, change the course of history. My goal is the same as most people who get into public health, to make the world a safer and healthier place.”

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health