First-generation college student inspires others
COM employee Earl Alexander knew exactly who to recruit as the first of the COM Ambassadors to visit high schools and talk about higher education – Janeth Rodriguez. Alexander knew the outgoing, determined 19-year-old was a living testament to the power of education.
“She’s dedicated,” said Alexander. “She didn’t mind sharing about her struggles. She went to high schools and told others that education was possible.”
Rodriguez, of Hitchcock, came to the U.S. in the fourth grade and besides fitting into a new school, she had a new language to master. She rose to the challenge – aided by her new best friend whom she dubbed her “dictionary” – and by high school her parents were encouraging her to consider college, though they’d never attended.
As a 10th grade student at Hitchcock High School, she decided to begin. In a science class she heard about the COM Super Start Program that allowed high school students to take two free college classes in the summer. In the process they would learn how to enroll in college, register for a class and study successfully. She signed up and gained not only a head start on college but a new direction for her future.
When Rodriguez and her classmates arrived on campus and embarked on a tour of COM, recruiter Earl Alexander asked students to share their goals. When Rodriguez responded “medical assistant,” a one-semester certificate program, Alexander challenged her, “You can do more than that.”
The comment opened a world of possibilities.
“Nobody really asked me (before). It’d never crossed my mind to do more,” she said.
After completing the summer program, she began taking dual credit classes at COM that fall. In three semesters, she earned 21 credits, saving time and money, since classes are partially paid for by a student’s high school.
After high school graduation, she entered COM as a full-time student with a head start – nearly two semesters already completed – and allies.
“(COM English professor) Ms. (Dalel) Serda really challenged me to go beyond,” she said. “She made us do research and read huge articles written for professors.”
As a full-time student, she began working with Alexander as a COM Ambassador. As a fluent Spanish speaker, she gave tours and presentations bilingually. Alexander now oversees Rodriguez as she serves part-time in the COM Student Help Center.
“She stays busy. She comes as early as you want and stays as late as you want,” he said.
At the center, Rodriguez guides students in completing federal financial aid forms, registering for classes, logging in online courses and navigating the admissions process.
“I breathe it,” she said. “I really feel good when you first see somebody really stressed and now (they are) taking classes. I feel like they’re my little ducklings.”
She also volunteered to visit elementary schools with the COM student club Amigos and talk to fourth and fifth graders about higher education. In one Pasadena elementary, she watched students’ faces light up as they discussed opportunities.
“We planted a seed that got them thinking. It’s not an option – you have to go to college,” she said. “We asked them, ‘You know you can get a job doing video games?’ They got really excited (about the possibilities).”
Now with one degree in hand, she’s on her way to another. She’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in fitness at the University of Houston.
“Now at U of H they’re telling us it’s going to be little different. I’m like, ‘I’ve been doing that already,’” she said, noting she already has written the type of papers the university requires. “COM prepared you really well. It paid off.”
Still loving the medical field, she’s broadened her horizons and now plans a career as a physical therapist.
“My dream right now, Lord willing, is to work at the Shriners Hospital for Children. They don’t turn any (patients) away,” she said, recalling the years her family went without health insurance. “I want to give back.”
Her parents and extended family have pushed her, supported her and applauded her as she’s become the first in her family to earn a degree.
“It makes them have something to be proud of,” she said.
The fourth-grade girl just beginning to master English now pens full-length academic essays in preparation for physical therapy school.
“It’s been rough. I fought to get here,” said Rodriguez. “It makes me proud.”