Pablo Ruiz earned his first bachelor’s degree at UMass Amherst in sustainable agriculture. He took some engineering classes, as well.
He got his second bachelor’s degree at UMass Lowell in mechanical engineering, after a couple of years spent working on a farm and then for FarmTek, a company that sells greenhouse systems and supplies.
“I saw that the whole greenhouse industry was moving more and more toward automation to try and make it as efficient as possible, and I thought that would mesh well with my then-hobby of engineering and tinkering around with stuff,” says Ruiz, who came from Spain to the U.S. for college – and stayed.
When Ruiz decided to go back to school for engineering, he started by taking some classes at Middlesex Community College.
Then, he enrolled in the “2 to 4 MCC Transfer Bridge" program, which helps community college students go on to earn four-year degrees at UMass Lowell in science, technology, engineering and math. Ruiz and 20 other students were able to take one of three UML science and engineering classes during summer 2019, tuition-free, and meet with transfer advisors so that they’d be ready to start full-time classes in the fall.
“The bridge program was really helpful,” Ruiz says. “One of the transfer admissions advisors held my hand throughout the process, so that made it a lot less stressful.”
Once here, Ruiz was invited to join the Honors College, where he took a computer science class with then-Honors Dean Jim Canning, who has since retired. Ruiz also applied for and won an Honors College Student Fellowship that paid him to work as a research assistant with a graduate student in Assoc. Prof. Murat Inalpolat’s lab, where they studied how to improve bomb disposal suits.
That experience helped him to get a second research assistantship during his senior year, this time with Asst. Prof. Paul Robinette in the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center, where he worked on a computer simulation that researchers can use to figure out how to control the movements of underwater robots. Ruiz declared a minor in robotics, too.
Ruiz will spend an additional year studying for his master’s degree.
“The Bachelor’s-to-Master’s Program is really cool. It’s one of the biggest benefits of coming to UMass Lowell, because it’s such a streamlined process,” he says.
His master’s degree will be in computer engineering. That way, he says, he gets to learn about both sides of robotics: the mechanics and the computer control systems. He’s looking forward to studying machine learning.
“I would love to work in robotics and make my previous degree count by working in something related to the agricultural industry, but I’m open to other ideas as well,” he says. “I just really like the idea of autonomous robots, robots that can make their own decisions.”
He found some time for fun while studying – by joining River Hawk Racing, a student club that builds a car every year for a Formula SAE competition. He says it was a great way to continue tinkering while meeting other students.
Unfortunately, when the campus mostly shut down due to COVID-19, the members of River Hawk Racing no longer had access to Pinanski Garage – and the 2020 competition was cancelled. But Ruiz can still work on his own car, a 1980s BMW.
“I call her Betsy,” he says. “It seems fitting. I bought her a long time ago now, and yes, I’ve done a lot of maintenance over the years.”