Steamboat senior Liz Ruzicka named prestigious Daniels Scholar
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When other little girls were playing with their dollhouses, Liz Ruzicka was building her own.
“I’d be using cardboard, newspaper, paper towel rolls … I’d create small cities for all my Littlest Pet Shop animals,” said the Steamboat Springs High School senior about her childhood.
Fast forward 14 years and the honor student is still designing and building elaborate sets for her high school drama troupe. But apparently, her skills go far beyond what her 4-year-old self ever dreamed of.
Ruzicka just netted one of the Western Rockies’ premier scholarships. As a newly named 2020 Daniels Scholar, Ruzicka’s entire four years of college anywhere in the U.S. will be paid for through the 2020 Daniels Fund. Only one other Steamboat student has ever earned the honor. It was won 15 years ago by Nicolas Hessenberger.
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“It couldn’t happen to a better person,” said AP literature teacher Larry Gravelle. “She’s absolutely brilliant and exemplifies what it means to be a scholar.”
Ruzicka’s early history might have hinted at a possible engineering mind, and sure enough, she’ll be attending the Colorado School of Mines where she plans to study engineering physics.
She recalled the moment she opened the scholarship letter.
“I knew my life had just changed,” said Ruzicka, president of the high school Honor Council with a 4.245 grade average. “Honestly, it was the best moment I’ve ever experienced, knowing that I was lucky enough to receive this scholarship.”
But luck had nothing to do with it, according to Ruzicka’s mentors and teachers.
“There’s so many things that make her special,” said high school counselor Danica Moss. “She’s a creator, thinker, extremely intelligent and very determined. She is heavily involved in everything at school. And to receive this scholarship is a ginormous honor.”
While carrying a full AP load, Ruzicka was either volunteering with youth, working side jobs or spending time with her beloved high school drama troupe. As student technical director, she headed up construction, sound and scenic design. Known for her modesty, she credits the troupe with helping her, not the other way around.
“They’re my family. Even throughout the application process and practicing my interview skills, they were there for me every step of the way,” Ruzicka said. “They’re all amazing.”
Though Ruzicka plans to study and work in engineering, teaching is in her heart.
“It wasn’t easy for me to make friends at school, because of my egregious study habits,” she said. Egregious here meaning “shockingly intense.”
“I want to help those kind of students … I want them to love to learn like I did,” she added.
In the end, Ruzicka gained many friends and a love for teaching. In fact, Ruzicka has already been practicing her teaching skills. She’s been volunteering with Camp Invention since eighth grade, where she works with kindergartners on STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — concepts and the inventing process.
“I love working with these little girls who have never heard the word ‘no’ or that anything is impossible,” Ruzicka said. “I want them to go to science class knowing that they can create and that their ideas are fathomable.”
Commitment to community is one of the requirements of Daniels Scholars. Ruzicka also volunteers with Steamboat Dance Theatre.
“Growing up I was a scholarship recipient from Steamboat Dance Theatre so I could dance, and now that I’m done dancing, I volunteer for them as a stage manager,” Ruzicka said.
Mentor and fellow engineer Katy Lee thinks of Ruzicka as a “renaissance” woman.
“I can’t wait to see what effect unleashing those abilities enhanced by a high quality engineering degree will have on the current challenges we face,” Lee. “What better use of scholarships funds is there in today’s world?”
The Daniels Fund was established by cable television pioneer Bill Daniels, who wanted recipients to be selected on a number of merits, not just grades. Other criteria includes exceptional character, leadership, commitment to the community, academic performance and promise, well-roundedness and emotional maturity.
The scholarship is open to students from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. This year 212 students were selected out of 2,265 applicants.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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