Marketing & Communications
Commencement concludes decades-long journey
Dave Ruhl at The Toledo Zoo
As he walks across the floor of the Stroh Center to receive his diploma, Dave Ruhl will have a good grasp of just what it takes to build such an impressive structure, and to earn a college degree. He’s been working at both for about 20 years.
Ruhl, a December graduate in construction management, has been constructing projects and managing his education throughout that lengthy journey. As a non-traditional student, he was in for the long haul.
“It was always part of the plan, to get my degree, but I was working full-time, I got married and had kids, so I was taking classes off and on,” Ruhl said. “Then a couple of years ago I got serious about it and went to school year-round.”
Ruhl has worked at The Toledo Zoo for more than 10 years, and as its assistant director of facilities construction, he has been a key player in numerous projects there, both large and small, with the goal of keeping the zoo as one of the top facilities in the nation.
“The organizational side of these can be very complicated, with many departments and lots of people involved,” said Rick Payeff, the zoo’s director of facilities and planning. “Dave has to bring all of those people together and make sure it is done the way we had planned it. That requires a lot of coordination and communication skill on his part.”
Ruhl has tackled that demanding workplace load, all while devoting most of his evenings and weekends to his education. There were sacrifices he was willing to make, especially after a couple of recent experiences demonstrated to him the value of that degree.
Ruhl had been hired by the zoo based on his diverse skill set that had been honed over a decade of work as an engineer, designer and draftsman. When his position became subject to elimination if a capital levy had not passed, Ruhl recognized that he needed more security.
“I had to have a backup plan,” Ruhl said. “Since I had started at the zoo, the qualification process had changed, and I suddenly realized that by not having that degree, I couldn’t even get an interview for the job I have now.”
Later, while screening candidates for another zoo position, Ruhl saw that any of the applicants with less than a bachelor’s degree on their resume would not receive an interview. A clerical error allowed one such candidate through the process, and that individual has turned out to be a top employee at the zoo.
“That was a real eye-opener,” Ruhl said. “Without that mistake, that guy without a degree never gets an interview, and he’s a great worker. I realized that could be me, so it made sense to get that degree.”
Ruhl said his classes at the University offered two contrasting environments. In his upper level construction courses, many of the students were non-traditional, like him, such as electricians, contractors and tradesmen. It was a different story in his BGeXperience classes.
“In those, it was me and 30 kids – kids the age of my kids,” said Ruhl, who has three sons and three step-sons in their teens and twenties. “But that was never really an issue. We were all there to learn.”
Ruhl said that the bonus reward of his construction courses at BGSU came from the background the faculty brought to the classroom.
“The biggest plus is that the instructors who teach the classes have been out on the job themselves,” he said. “They have done the work, so they connected with all the students.”
Travis Chapin, chair of the BGSU construction management department, said Ruhl’s work ethic and commitment allowed him to balance a full-time job and his academic schedule.
“The non-traditional students such as Dave, they certainly have the motivation to get their degree, and they do whatever they need to accomplish that,” Chapin said. “He is a good student and very responsible – what you would expect from a mature student who has been out in the world.”
Ruhl is now involved with the zoo’s $25.5 million renovation of the aquarium building. That project will take until 2015 to complete, and involve more than 20 different major contractors.
Payeff said Ruhl’s course work at BGSU has made him an increasingly valuable employee who is able to handle such significant undertakings.
“He is a very detailed and organized person, and we definitely saw his education play out,” Payeff said. “Everything he learned there, in economics, in construction and in planning -- it is applied here at the zoo every day.”
(Posted December 10, 2012 )