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Committed to school and survival as a parent

By Elizabeth Exline

"Coming from an immigrant family, you grow up with this mentality that you have to work, work, work. My wife reels me back in to say, ‘It’s okay to take time off and vacation and spend time with the kids.’ She has been my support."

This is from Ruben Mireles, and if anyone could use a vacation, it’s him.

Mireles is the director of Human Resources for a medical center in Harlingen, Texas. He is the past president of the Lower Valley Chapter of the Society of Human Resources, and he is a father to three-going-on-four children (his wife is due in September). He is also a student pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Business with a Human Resource Management Certificate.

What’s more: He has juggled all these roles while surviving not just a global pandemic but also the Texas freeze of February 2021.

Mireles credits his tenacity and his calm-amid-the-storm mentality for pulling his family and his team at work through these various crises. Concepts like sacrifice and hard work were modeled for him by his parents, who left behind a comfortable life in Mexico when Mireles was 4 so that they could give him a better education in the U.S. (It was a move that cost his father a job in a bank for a new one as a diesel mechanic.)

Mireles absorbed these lessons and implemented them in his own life from an early age. He planned to join the military after high school, but his now-wife was pregnant at the time, and he had to choose between being present for her and their child or providing a comfortable life from afar.

He chose the former, and immediately began working. He took a job as a cashier at a fast-food restaurant, working his way up the ranks to management in a matter of months.

Next, he took a job at the Port of Brownsville, where he was hired as a translator. The job was supposed to last six months; he stayed for eight years, moving from translating to recruiting.

Eventually, Mireles landed at the hospital where he currently works. He had successfully navigated multiple industries to become the director of Human Resources. "But throughout this whole journey, I always wanted to go back to school, because I felt like there were opportunities I was missing because of my degree," Mireles explains.

So, Mireles began his bachelor’s degree program at University of Phoenix (UOPX) while working at a blood bank in 2016. He was hesitant to start online college but soon found the format worked well for him. He’s even earned a scholarship through, which is one more way UOPX students can earn credits toward their degrees.

Today, Mireles’ eldest daughter is in high school and eyeing a career in social work. She is disciplined, Mireles says, and will likely have earned her associate degree by the time she graduates high school. "My goal," Mireles deadpans, "is to graduate before she does."

How does he manage it all? Here, he shares what motivates him and what measures he’s taken to succeed.

What motivates you every day?

It has to be my kids and my wife. All of this is done not only for me on a personal level but for my family and my kids, to give my kids a better life. To give them a better education. To teach them a little bit more about enjoying life.

When I started school, I was freaking myself out about how to fit it in. Now, I just have my routine. So, Wednesdays, Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings are the times that I’ll do school. I’ve been doing this since 2016. My 4-year-old asks if I’m doing homework.

What was it like working in a hospital during COVID?

It was definitely a very stressful time. We had to establish a new culture of taking care of each other first and then taking care of everyone else. We implemented temperature checks, masks and wiping down everything. Then we had all this staff coming in from across the country, but no one in our office got COVID. It was absolutely a shock to everybody. We didn’t know anything about this virus, this pandemic.

I anticipate we’ll feel the effects of this for at least another year. Many hospitals are short-staffed. There were some people who realized that this was not worth it for them and their families, so they got out completely from nursing. Others went to work at high-dollar contracts so they can now take time off until probably after the holidays. A lot of nurses worked 12-, 14-hour shifts, seeing people die — a lot of people are burned out.

How did you protect your family from COVID? What measures did you take?

We had to change our culture a little bit. Normally, when I walk in the house, my kids come running up to see me. During COVID, I came in through the garage, took a shower and then greeted my family.

What was your experience with the Texas Freeze in February 2021?

It’s never cold here, and we ended up going through this freeze, which literally put this city at a complete stop. We were without power or water for seven days. We ended up all going into our bedroom and keeping warm as best we could. Stores were empty, so every day, we had to figure out what to eat. Hospitals don’t close, so I continued to work. By coming in myself, my staff didn’t have to come in.

That fighting spirit or will that I have, and that I obtained from my parents, kept us going. I like to show my family that we’re going to be fine.

During these various global challenges, did you feel like there was a moment when you had to choose one goal over another?

There was a point when I told my wife, "I don’t think I can go to school and work during a pandemic." I was very frustrated, and I wanted to put a hold on [my education]. My wife has been crucial in this journey, because she’s the one who will say, "Time’s going to continue to pass. Just take it one day at a time. Before you know it, you’re going to be done with it."

What do you do when you feel like you want to give up on something?

I think of my wife and my kids but also my parents. I’ve seen my dad work long hours. Knowing he made that sacrifice [to emigrate and switch careers] when he already had his degree and career, and knowing that my mom had to learn a new language [to emigrate] — I want to stay on track for them as well.

What do you think it takes not just to survive but to thrive as a working parent in extraordinary circumstances?

I think it takes discipline and passion for what you do. Discipline for school and passion for work.


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