College of DuPage was the perfect choice for Jennifer Rodriguez.
“I was navigating what it meant to be the first child in the family to go right from high school into a college setting,” she said. “Though my parents supported me in every way, they were unable to guide me in the process of choosing a college or university after high school. COD made higher education attainable because it was flexible, affordable, and the more I took ownership of my learning and explored my options at COD, the more financial support I was able to take advantage of right from the start.”
Rodriguez attended COD off and on while she searched for a major. She would receive invitations to be part of the Honors Scholars program but was scared about maintaining a high GPA.
Ultimately, she decided to commit fully to her education, began taking Honors courses and chose Sociology as a major.
“The Honors Scholars Program was the gateway to continuing my education,” she said. “At that time, being an Honors Scholar allowed me to take honors classes tuition-free. And because I didn’t have much money, you better believe I took every honors class I could!
“Also, something unexpected happened: I was challenged to think critically, I met many interesting and unusual people, and It was the first time in my educational career that I got straight A’s. This made me more confident in my abilities and it helped solidify the core belief I hold today, which is that I can learn anything.”
Rodriguez applied for and received several scholarships at COD. During her final year, she enrolled in the Study Abroad program to Japan, an experience she still treasures. She also was named one of the College’s Outstanding Graduate finalists and received the Elmhurst College Transfer Scholarship, a full tuition award given annually to one COD student.
“I remember very clearly that my last words to the panel of judges during the interview process was how much I valued my education,” she said. “I certainly did not believe they would choose me, but I’m so grateful they did. They said they had never seen a student take so many honors classes!”
Rodriguez followed up her Associate in Arts degree by earning a bachelor’s degree in Sociology, with a minor in Social Work and International Studies, and a Master in Social Work from Dominical University. For several years she was a social worker with elementary school students but is now working with high school students.
“I am living my dream! I was born to do this job, and every experience I’ve had leading up to this point has made me especially equipped to support others, to bring my creativity and skill to help students achieve their full potential, and to be an active member of my school community,” she said.
She and her husband also became parents, which has deepened her desire to highlight the importance of exploring education through experiences.
“Someday, I want my son to follow his passion and dip his paintbrush in as many bright colors that call to him,” she said. “Every learning experience is valuable and becomes a part of our greater picture. I continue to reflect on how my time at COD was the foundation for the professional I have become today. I am still so grateful for the opportunity I had to grow as a student and as a person.”
Because of her desire to help and inspire, Rodriguez has written, illustrated and published two books.
“The first is ‘How Mama Says Goodbye,’ which is based on my motherhood experience and my desire to leave a legacy of love in action for my son, Presley,” she said. “The second book, ‘Quinceañera: Words of Wisdom and Self-Love,’ is a little book of loving motivations for young women and teens. Because I am bilingual and bicultural, it was important that both of these books be available in English and Spanish. I am extremely proud of both of these works and hope to write more books in the future as inspiration strikes!”
During the quarantine, Rodriguez developed her art practice and wrote “Postpartum Me: A Guided Journal for Moms,” a self-paced journal for moms who experienced postpartum depression as she did.
Rodriguez is happy with her start at College of DuPage. She advises incoming students to roll up their sleeves and take charge of their learning.
“Education is a beautiful gift,” she said. “Be an active participant in your life and in who you want to be. It took me a long time to get where I am today, but I don’t regret any of my learning experiences or how long it took me to learn from them. You are your greatest ally and champion. Believe you can do it, and actually take the first step.
“I had many amazing opportunities at COD that I can confidently say changed the course of my life. Anyone can learn anything, given the right tools and the right opportunity. This is something that motivates me and that I work to instill in my students today.”