By Jeannette Rivera-Lyles
David Ruggieri, CEO of Florida Technical College (FTC), is often asked about strategies to reach professional and personal success. He believes “Success is a route you follow” and cautions that achieving success and THEN maintaining it is hard work. Also, success generally eludes those who require instant gratification.
Ruggieri, recently co-wrote a book with motivational author Jack Canfield, of the famed Chicken Soup for the Soul, titled Soul of Success VOLUME 1. Since its release late this summer the book climbed to the top spot of Amazon best sellers. We talked to Ruggieri about his book and another topic he is passionate about, post-secondary education.
Q: Tell us a bit more about the book. What are some of the strategies to attain success?
“I participated in this project because Jack Canfield, who spearheaded it, is a respected authority in the subject of self-help. His Chicken Soup for the Soul series has helped millions. Success requires discipline. But first, we must identify what we’d like to do, what brings a sense of fulfillment and how that fits into opportunities in the market or in your community. Once you have identified those elements, we establish short and a long term goals and set a plan to achieve them. We should also accept, from the get go, that we will fall along the way. But I always tell my students, if you fall, don’t fall backwards, fall forwards. You’ll be at least four feet ahead from where you fell. But to summarize it, success is a process. Those who seek immediate gratification will likely not get it.”
Q: How did you get started in the post-secondary education industry?
‘’I got started as an instructor at a technical school in California. I had just completed my military service and was attracted to by the fact that this institution in San Diego, was registering lots of people like me fresh out of the service. I realized that many of these veterans were coming back into civilian life with plenty of skills, but many had little or no application in the civilian world. I felt a calling to help these guys reinvent themselves. Funny thing is, I told myself that I’d do it for a year or two, much in the way someone donates their time to the Peace Corps, but 40 years later, I’m still here.”
Q: What differentiates FTC from other colleges?
“We have 35 years of experience and knowledge of the Central Florida market. In that time, we have developed solid relationships with many of the area’s largest employers which enables us to understand demand and where it is coming from. Another element that sets us apart is the quality of our instructors and staff. They are knowledgeable on their fields but also compassionate and caring. To them, our students are like family and they treat them with that same sense of caring.”
Q: In your years as FTC’s CEO, what do you consider to be your top accomplishment?
“Growth, must definitively. When I was appointed CEO seven years ago, we had three locations and less than 1,000 students. Today, we have twice the campuses (6) and have quadrupled the number of students to 4,000. I’m also very proud of our success rate. We take starting and graduating seriously as well as helping our graduates find jobs.”
Q: One of your objectives as an educator is to enroll more Hispanics and other minorities in college. What is stopping these demographics from pursuing a college education, money or time?
“I don’t think it is because of money. It is a more complex social issue. Often times, young people in these communities grow up in larger, more complex family situations that sometimes prohibit the opportunity to attend college or a training program. After high school, some go straight into the labor market to help the family. The problem is that the jobs that are available for people with just a high school diploma are not going to help these students break the cycle so the cycle continues with each generation. We have to break this cycle.”
Q: Some people choose a career track based solely on financial projections: how much money will they make upon graduation. Is that right or wrong?
‘’It’s not the smartest way to pick a career. Money should be one of the considerations, of course, but not the only one. We try to spot students like that from the start and try to steer them the right way. We make it clear to someone who say, wants to study criminal justice, that they may see bloody scenes. If blood or violence, is something you can’t even think about, you’d be wasting your time and money in a career in the criminal justice arena. It is important for us to HELP counsel these students because choosing the wrong program cannot only lead to the student dropping out of the program, but ending up with debt and no benefit.”
Q: So, do you see yourself as an academic or a mentor?
“Definitively a mentor. In this role, I complement the work of our instructors who are the academics. They are knowledgeable in their respective fields and are great at imparting that knowledge. Part of my job, is to make sure our students stay on track. That they have all the support they need to be able to finish what they have started and walk across the graduation stage to receive their diploma. This is important because our students, for the most, are not the traditional students that come here right after high school. They are young adults in their mid-twenties, thirties and older. They have lives, families, jobs, and sometimes balancing all of that with college can be trying.”
Q: As CEO, what do you think are post-secondary educations biggest challenge for an institution like FTC?
“One of the biggest challenges is jobs. As a nation, it is important that we continue to incentivize industries that generate well-paid jobs. The medical sector and technology are good examples. I take the pulse of the labor market almost daily. I don’t guide myself just by national statistics. I speak to the leaders and employers of the communities that our campus locations are part of and also with state leaders. They know better than anyone whether the economy is expanding or contracting in their areas. This is necessary to ensure that our graduates are a reflection of the workforce that is needed, so they may transition easily from students to professionals. Otherwise, we wouldn’t fulfill our mission.”
‘’Another challenge we face is that grants and financial AID for low-income students are dwindling. The same is true for public schools, whose budgets keep getting slashed. K-12 is the foundation for college, so without that base students will struggle.”
Q: What are some of FTC’s future projects?
“We are developing more programs in technical fields as well as construction, construction management, business, IT and the medical field. We are also developing programs taught in Spanish that would be complemented by English classes for non-native speakers. The goal is to help people who are new here earn a post-secondary education while at the same time learn English so that they may be productive citizens. “