ODI's Ricardo Zamaripa’s journey: From farm fields to Hale Hall

Ricardo Zamparipa with Brutus Buckeye

Ricardo Zamaripa’s journey: From farm fields to Hale Hall 

By Paige Galperin

The door to Ricardo Zamaripa's office is almost always open. Inside, you'll find a confident yet humble man with a burning passion for making a difference in students' lives. As the Program Manager of ODI's Scholarship Services, Zamaripa leads ODI's financial aid team while also providing personalized financial coaching to ODI scholars.

However, there's more to Zamaripa than meets the eye. Look around his office, and you'll find clues—a souvenir Texas license plate, faded family photos—that tell the tale behind Zamaripa's passion for his job—a story of hard work, mentorship, and paying it forward.

“Certain people were set in my life to help me get to where I am now,” Zamaripa said. “Now, I'm able to give back. I'm able to share what I've learned with the people who work with me, but also gain experience through what they've experienced and learn from them.”

Zamaripa grew up in a Mexican-American migrant farm working family. In the winters, he lived near his extended family in Pharr, Texas, just north of the border. Every April, Zamaripa would head north with his parents and siblings to a migrant farm working camp in northwest Ohio, where they spent summers and autumns in the fields tending cucumbers and tomatoes. Eventually, his family would establish roots in Lindsey, Ohio.

Zamaripa began toiling in the fields at age nine. In the summers, he and his family would spend ten to twelve hours per day in the fields, harvesting produce in long-sleeved garments to protect them from itchy plant fibers and the hot sun. He recalls that conditions on the farms were rudimentary; his ten-person family lived in a tiny home without running water, heat, or air conditioning. When living in the migrant camps, he remembers his parents turning on the stove and space heaters to warm them through those chilly autumn nights. Early in his life, migrating annually between Ohio and Texas school systems also disrupted Zamaripa's education, resulting in learning gaps and difficulty maintaining friendships.

Despite—or perhaps because of—the tough environment, Zamaripa's family remained tight-knit, and he was proud to contribute to their well-being. “The most important part was that we had each other,” he said. “I think because of that, we grew to be a close family.”

Zamaripa's family continued to be a guiding influence in his life, leading him to attend The Ohio State University like his older brother, Mauricio. A first-generation student, Zamaripa initially struggled to keep up in classes, discover a supportive community, and have confidence in himself. It wasn't until the end of his first year that he began to find his footing, thanks to a professor who encouraged him to major in English. “Knowing that someone else has faith in you—that boosts your confidence; that makes you feel like, ‘Yeah, I can do this,'” Zamaripa explained.

Zamaripa went on to graduate with a degree in English education. In Woodville, Ohio, he taught English as a second language to migrant students, a job that brought him full circle.
“I was educating students that were in the same situation that I was growing up," Zamaripa stated. "I understood their background; I understood their lack of confidence; I understood their struggle.”

Zamaripa enjoyed the work, but his boss believed he could make an even greater impact. In 2005, she recommended him for a position at Ohio State recruiting migrant farm working students to the university, doubling prior enrollment. In 2021, Zamaripa was tapped to join ODI's brand-new Scholarship and Supplemental Academic Services (S-SAS) team.

He says his current goal is simple: “to help ODI scholars maximize their financial aid and minimize their debt.” Although Zamaripa now heads a team of financial coaches, he still finds time to connect with students, paying forward as a mentor just as others did for him.

“Some students come from my same background: they're first-gen; they're not taught about how to secure grants and scholarships, how to take out loans responsibly, or the importance of deadlines, or the FAFSA,” Zamaripa noted. “Every student has a story. If you just know a piece of that story, and you just offer your services and try to help them out as much as possible, I think that really helps.”

He encourages all ODI scholars to make use of the services his team offers. “I like to think that we make Ohio State a better place,” Zamaripa said. “The greatest thing about this job is that you get to make a difference every day.”

Ricardo standing next to a speed limit sign as a young child
The Zamaripa family
Ricardo Zamparipa helping students in ODI