Heather Ruttkofsky never saw herself as a “college person.” Today, she is a professional sonographer who teaches Jackson College students about the field she loves, and most importantly, how to help people.
Ruttkofsky, of Onsted, graduated high school and went to work in a factory for 13 years, making salsa for $5 an hour. She was happy in the job and didn’t see much beyond it. One day, a co-worker who was going to visit Jackson College’s Lenawee campus asked if she was comfortable making $5 an hour, and did she ever see anything more in her future. Her friend – who had noticed Ruttkofsky’s helpful attitude even on the factory floor – suggested she come along to visit the College. Ruttkofsky picked up some flyers on both nursing and sonography, and enrolled in nursing courses at the Vo-Tech Center.
“I went to the Vo-Tech because I remember believing that someone like me with my background wouldn’t fit into college. No one in my family went to college,” she said. When the nursing classes weren’t a good fit, Ruttkofsky thought she would just go back and work in the factory. She again spoke with her friend, who shared with her that it wasn’t about fitting into college; it was about finding a college and program that fit with you. So Ruttkofsky went back to take course placement and meet with an advisor, who although honest about the number of developmental courses she would have to take, also gave her a vision for her future. “She said that it doesn’t matter about the number of courses you have to take, it matters about who you want to become. If the job fits to make who you want to be, it doesn’t matter how long it will take you.”
In 1994, she enrolled at Jackson College, first completing the emergency medical services (EMS) program. With her EMS license, she got a job as a phlebotomist, which helped her pay for college as she continued in the sonography program. She graduated with her associate degree in sonography in 2001. President Dan Phelan presented her degree at commencement and told her “You’ve picked the perfect career.” While he was likely referring to the demand for sonographers, the comment was further validation that she had made the right choice and was, indeed, a “college person.”
After graduation, she went to work as a sonographer and was hired by Jackson College as a clinical instructor. She gained further study in vascular sonography, and in 2007, became vascular sonography program director. The job suits her well, as she is both scientifically curious and loves to help people. “I want to make a difference in how I make someone feel. I want to make a difference, and help people understand how they can help themselves.”
As an instructor, too, she wants to help students understand how they can make a difference in a patient’s life, and help others who may feel like she did once. “Really, it’s a little selfish, but I want to be part of it. I want someone to say ‘That was one person who helped me to achieve my goals, when I didn’t think I could.’”
Today, she is married to husband, Jerry, and they have a son.