From first gen student to peer mentor: Gabriela Rodriguez
Expected Graduation: Fall 2016
Individualized Degree in Journalism and English
First Year Student Success, Lead Ambassador
Student Government Association, Associate Vice President
For Gabriela Rodriguez, college isn’t something to be taken for granted. The multidisciplinary student is the first in her family to go to college and she’s making the most of her experience. Four years ago when she arrived at Metropolitan State University of Denver she had no idea of how much it would change her life.
“It’s remarkable what we are capable of absorbing in four years,” she said. “It’s important to appreciate our ability to access education as not everyone in the world is so fortunate. It’s a privilege for me to be able to attend this university.”
She notes that using the resources available at MSU Denver was key to her success. Rodriguez said that not all students are aware of the resources that are available and are already paid for as part of their tuition and student fees. She is on a mission to help all students take advantage of all these resources that they have available at their fingertips.
"It’s important to appreciate our ability to access education as not everyone in the world is so fortunate."
Rodriguez advocates for using campus resources in several capacities. One way is through the First Year Success Program. She started in the First Year Success Program as a freshman and the following year she applied to be one of the program's Student Ambassadors. She served as a Lead Student Ambassador in her second year with the program and after her third year as a student leader, moved on to work in the MSU Denver Student Government office.
The First Year Success program, an important component to the student experience, has helped Rodriguez uncover a few of her many talents: mentoring other students and helping them develop their personal and professional goals. In her role as the Lead Student Ambassador, Rodriguez was able to put into practice what she learned in the classroom as well as develop additional communication and leadership skills that will help her attain her career goals.
“Working on campus has a lot of perks, the biggest of which is a sense of confidence I’ve developed over the past several years,” Rodriguez said. “I’m more comfortable now talking to professors, administrators and community leaders.”
As a first generation college student she discovered that getting into MSU Denver was just the first of many hurdles. The second, and perhaps most challenging for first gen students, is staying the course. For help staying the course, she relies on student employment to pay for college. To help others Rodriguez serves as the president of the student organization she founded called RISE. RISE was created to help first gen students, refugees, immigrants, and DACA students learn to navigate the school resources, who to go to for help and what questions to ask in order to maximize their educational experience.
“RISE advocates for a more welcoming environment,” Rodriguez said. “First gen, refugees, immigrants and DACA students lack the family support system— brothers, sisters, or parents who have ‘been there’—as role models and mentors and we serve to fill that role.”
Another way she advocates for taking advantage of student resources is through the Student Government Association. In fact, if you’re looking for a position on SGA, Rodriguez is the woman to know. In her position as Associate Vice President, she is responsible for hiring new positions and managing the process. Once new leaders join SGA, she helps them create goals that can translate into professional skills and experiences in order to help them build their resumes. She also mentors students in the SGA, showing them the resources available to them on campus and what questions to ask.
Last semester was a very difficult one, balancing family time, a tough course load, and work. “I’m on campus five days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” she said. “It’s a lot of work to get an undergraduate degree, but it’s supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be easy.”
Her hard work is paying off as Rodriguez already has two internship opportunities to pick from—one at the White House and another with a national labor union.
“What I really want to do is community advocacy and public affairs, assisting and shining a light on the underserved and undocumented communities that lack a voice,” said Rodriguez, who recently campaigned for Senator Mark Udall, bringing him to campus to speak to students.
“It’s amazing to think of the person you start out as,” Rodriguez reflects, “and the person you become. Four years ago I was a first year honors student with dreams of what I was going to do. Turns out that I’ve accomplished so much more than I thought was possible.”