Paola Rodriguez, '21

Paola Rodriguez sits on a hammock on campus.

Sophomore Paola Rodriguez always knew she wanted to further her education despite her immigration status. Now, she’s working a local organization to help students like herself fulfill their dreams of becoming a college graduate. Read below to find out more.

Q: How did you choose Rockhurst?

A: I knew I wanted to be an occupational therapist, so I started by looking at the top 50 schools in the U.S. and I applied to I think 30 of them. I got accepted to a handful of them. From there, I just narrowed it down by cost, quality of program, location, and other things that they had to offer for being a minority and a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) student. Rockhurst seemingly made it up to my top five. I had no clue where Rockhurst was, and I didn’t even know this place existed. I put it into prayer the whole summer before I had to make an adult decision and choose where I was going. Rockhurst eventually made it to my top three and the other two schools ended up losing the scholarships that were going to give me. Rockhurst made it to my top school, and I was like, ‘maybe it’s time to visit’. I visited and the moment I stepped on campus I knew it was where I had to be. I saw the hammocks and I was like, ‘yes, this is it. This is home’. I truly feel that I was meant to be here, and that this place chose me.

Q: Was it always the plan to go to college?

A: I’m a first-generation student. My mom’s highest education was her CNA. My dad finished middle school. My sister did go to college, she got her associate’s, but she didn’t finish a bachelor’s degree. Because my parents didn’t go, I’m first generation. From when I was little, other kids would be playing with dolls and I would be reading books and watching a whole bunch of random science stuff. I knew since I was little that I wanted to be a doctor. It was just something I knew. I love education, I love learning and I just did not see any other future without going to college and getting a degree. So yeah, it was always the plan. My parents have always been super supportive of it, too.

Q: What advice would you give to your past self about college?

A: Well, I think a really huge factor and an interesting part of my story is that I am an immigrant and I am DACA. If it wasn’t for that program, I don’t think I would have the same opportunities that I have now. My parents have always been the ones to say that if other people have done it, there’s no reason that you can’t, too. I would tell myself from the past that it’s ok to tread your own path. That’s one thing I was always afraid of - what if I fail, what if I don’t make it? Nobody’s doing what I’m doing, am I going to succeed? I have. I’ve made it this far so I think I would tell my past self to chill out and just do it, just go with it and trust my gut.

Q: Being DACA, did that limit schools you were looking at?

A: I know for a lot of people, it does. It limits a lot of your options and it’s a really big contributor to many of your life decisions. Like I said, my support system has always been incredible and in my mind I always knew that I didn’t have the same opportunities as other people, but it never stopped me. I applied to the same schools that my friends applied to. I got accepted into schools that other people should have been accepted into. It was just, ‘this is my plan, this is my goal, this is what I know is going to take me to my goal.’ I never let being an immigrant affect that decision, I just went for it.

Q: Can you explain what the Hispanic Development Fund does?

A: The Hispanic Development Fund in Kansas City is an organization that helps Latinos and DACAs by giving scholarships to them, along with other things like internships and other connections and networking opportunities. They help fill in that gap for Hispanic students. Cambio for Cambio is the program we are working with and they are helping fund scholarships for students in the Kansas City area. The fundraiser we are working on is helping to fund a scholarship specifically for Rockhurst students.

Q: How has this organization helped you out?

A: Because they’re based in Kansas City, you have to live in certain counties. They didn’t directly help me, but I know a couple people at Rockhurst that have received scholarships from them. If it weren’t for programs like that, a lot of us DACA students could not afford to go to college.

Q: How did you first hear about the organization?

A: They reached out to us. They heard that Rockhurst is a very inclusive place and all of us know that Rockhurst is very open and inclusive and very social justice-oriented. They reached out to us and said that we would be a perfect fit and asked if this was something we are passionate about. We immediately said yes. We just started going at it and fundraising money and we’ve been doing so good so far. They reached out to Julia Vargas, Ed.D, director of the center for service learning, and she reached out to the SOL (Student Organization of Latinos) executive board and then we reached out to sigma delta pi (national Hispanic honor society), and we created a team.

Q: What’s one thing you want other people to know from this fundraiser?

A: I know that a lot of people need financial support, but DACA students don’t get government assistance. Our only support is through programs like these that directly go to their education. Rockhurst, for a lot of immigrant students, because it’s private, tuition is the same out-of-state and in-state. A lot of people choose to go to private schools because it doesn’t affect them. Even then, we don’t get government help, we don’t get FAFSA, and we don’t get any other outside government funded scholarships.


You can find the fundraiser HERE