As the University counts down to Commencement, UConn Today is featuring some of this year’s outstanding graduating students, nominated by their academic school or college or another University program in which they participated. For additional profiles of students in the Class of 2012, click here.
As the first person in her immediate family to go to college, Melanie Rodriguez ’11 (ED), ’12 MA grew up getting her ideas of what university life is like from books and movies.
“I couldn’t ask my parents what going to college was like,” she says, although older cousins and teachers did also play a role in shaping her perceptions of life on a college campus.
Rodriguez had wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten, and to achieve her ambition she needed a college degree. With the Neag School of Education’s Integrated Bachelors/Master’s in elementary education ranking among America’s top 25 teacher education programs, UConn was her No. 1 choice. But after growing up in Bridgeport, the prospect of living in Storrs was very different.
“Coming from the city, Storrs was a culture shock,” she says.
Rodriguez was fortunate to have support from UConn’s Student Support Services (SSS) program, a pillar of the University’s commitment to helping first-generation college students succeed.
“SSS helped me make a great transition from high school to college and prepare myself for the academic workload,” Rodriguez says. “I made connections with amazing mentors.”
Those initial connections started what became a hallmark of Rodriguez’s UConn career. “I really just dove in, got to meet a lot of different people, and formed friendships,” she says.
She has since gone on to win the Neag School’s William Randolph Hearst Scholarship, Connecticut’s Minority Teacher Scholarship, an American Association of University Women Scholarship, and an SSS grant.
In addition to the student teaching that is a cornerstone of teacher education programs, UConn’s program also requires its prospective educators to intern in a school system. This more administrative experience facilitates networking with principals, vice principals, secretaries, people in a school district’s central office such as curriculum specialists, and even the superintendent. During her master’s year in the Neag program, Rodriguez served her internship at Hartford’s Clark Elementary and Middle School and seized the opportunity to make a permanent difference.
While some interns wrote a report suggesting how to solve a particular school’s problem, Rodriguez and another Neag intern actually closed a gap in the Clark School’s academic offerings by resurrecting the school’s library, which had fallen into disuse. Youngsters at the school will now once again have a school library, thanks to the UConn students’ work.
Rodriguez and her colleague entered a Facebook contest sponsored by the We Give Books organization. Like all the other contestants, the two posted a photo on the social network of a child being read to. The photo that received the most “likes” would win $500 to spend on books as the winner desired.
“We won the contest!” says Rodriguez. “I’m an RA at UConn and I sent it out to the RA listserve and to everyone in Neag – ‘please “like” this photo.’ We had over 2,000 ‘likes!’” Along with winning the contest, the pair held seven book drives throughout Connecticut, and received a donation from Scholastic Books, reopening the library with a total of 8,000 books.
Having expanded her comfort zone to forge personal and professional relationships and obtain her education, Rodriguez now hopes to give back to her community by obtaining a teaching job in Bridgeport.