College helps Newman grad find focus, hope

College life changed Kristi Ruge.

During the past four years at Newman University, she said she has gone from drifting from job to job to a life with focus and, more importantly, hope.

On Saturday, she graduates. Ruge, 43, will receive her bachelor’s of arts in liberal studies.

Ruge admits she is about as nontraditional as nontraditional college students get.

She was previously married and has a 19-year-old son attending school in Houston. At Newman, she started an “OWL” (Older, Wiser Learners) blog to help other older nontraditional students; was a student residence assistant; sang in the choir; performed in musical and theater productions; and is now considering whether to become a sister in the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, the religious order that founded Newman University.

Ruge said she grew up a Methodist in Eureka, Independence and Coffeyville. She graduated from Coffeyville High School in 1986, got married and then divorced.

In August, 2003, Ruge said, she and her son, Trevor, moved to Wichita.

“At that point, school was not in the picture. I moved to Wichita to be closer to some family that lived in McPherson,” Ruge said.

“Trevor hated the big city of Wichita. He wanted to live with his dad. I made the painful decision to let that happen.”

For some time, she didn’t know what to do or what direction her life would take. She held a variety of jobs, including a veterinarian technician, a leasing agent for offices and apartments and an administrative assistant.

In 2004, she converted to Catholicism.

“Through the encouragement of friends, I came back to school to educate and improve my life,” Ruge said. “It was frustrating to me that I was not able to work in a job that could comfortably support me and my son.”

Initially, she majored in theology with a minor in music. Last year, she added counseling to the list. She hopes to become a hospital or hospice chaplain.

“When I converted to Catholicism , I fell in love with the faith,” she said. “That is what brought me to Newman.

“Sisterhood was not on the table when I returned to Newman. But by praying and seeking God’s guidance for the last two years, I have absolutely fallen in love with them. It’s been my life. It’s a perfect fit.

“Whether I become a sister, I don’t know yet – but certainly that call could deepen my commitment.”

Two decades ago, she considered herself shy and introverted. That’s not how she sees herself now.

“I foundered through life trying to find my way,” Ruge said.

“Everybody always says you need an education, but there is so much more than the world of academia. Education is about life experiences through school and how it molds, transforms and teaches you to transform society. That’s part of the mission statement of Newman, is being empowered to become that person and go out and create change in a positive way.

“I know that God is calling me to do that – whether as a sister or a lay person. I can do my part to transform society.”