Writer: Matthew Legarreta, 575-646-7953, email@example.com
David Rodriguez will cross the stage to collect his degree this Saturday with hundreds of other graduates at this year’s commencement ceremony at New Mexico State University. He will earn his degree in chemical engineering, but this father-of-two’s non-traditional path began in Mexico, where he was born and raised.
Rodriguez arrived in Deming, New Mexico as part of a farmworker family at age 17 and faced a culture shock.
“I spent almost all of my education back in Mexico,” said Rodriguez. “So that was quite a different culture, different language, different people — a different type of education.”
After graduating from Deming High School, Rodriguez was at first unsure where he wanted to study after high school, but he had a good idea what he wanted to study.
“I fell in love with chemistry after my first class in middle school,” said Rodriguez. “I just love chemistry and math, so I was looking for a major and a career that gave me the opportunity to combine both.”
Rodriguez was accepted at three New Mexico universities, but ultimately chose NMSU for its chemical engineering department, specifically the success rate of its past alumni. But he faced more important challenges than picking a major.
“My first child came after my freshman year of college,” said Rodriguez. “So that was the biggest challenge: trying to find the time for family, and for other responsibilities at home, and at work, and school. So I had to learn how to manage my time to accomplish all those goals.”
Help came from NMSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program, which provides both funding and mentoring to assist students from migrant and farmworker families across New Mexico and West Texas.
“I didn’t have good English communication skills, so I was kind of afraid to go to university at first,” said Rodriguez. “But CAMP gave me the opportunity to overcome that and keep growing in school and in getting my degree.”
Rodriguez received scholarships and other forms of aid from CAMP, but professors and staff say he earned it with his hard work and focus on his goals.
“David Rodriguez, as a freshman, entered CAMP with a focus and determination that is typically unseen in someone so young,” said Cynthia Bejarano, a professor of interdisciplinary studies at NMSU and the principal investigator for NMSU’s CAMP. “We quickly learned that David is a sage, someone wise beyond their years, who had the discipline and work ethic to reach his goals in just a few short years.”
“What impresses me most about David is his strong work ethic and perseverance,” said Jaime Lopez, an academic advisor at CAMP who worked with Rodriguez. “David faced many challenges coming to college, including the language barrier, yet his intelligence, strong will and discipline allowed him to accomplish all of his goals. He is a shining example of what a CAMP scholar can achieve.”
It didn’t take long for Rodriguez to start excelling in academics, as his excellent grades soon led to a membership in the prestigious Honors Society of Chemical Engineers. More opportunities followed, including an invitation to join the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to perform breast cancer research under the guidance of NMSU associate professor Jessica Houston and NMSU assistant professor Kevin Houston.
Now with two children, a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering (with two minors in chemistry and materials engineering) coming May 11, and a position working for Intel Corporation awaiting him, Rodriguez is proud of his accomplishment, but gives most of the credit to the love and support he received.
“My family — my wife, my kids, my parents — that’s the only reason I am getting my degree,” said Rodriguez. “Sometimes you are so tired from doing the schoolwork and everything else. But having the family that will support you and help you at home makes all the difference.”
Rodriguez is grateful to the CAMP staff who helped him through the years. As a way of paying it forward, he has been a mentor to other migrant students in the program. Rodriguez understands just how important it is for the students to have mentors who know what they are going through.
“The intensity of being in a rigorous field like chemical engineering,” said Bejarano, “and also working as a tutor to high school farmworkers and other migrant students—plus being a loving spouse and the father of two young children—all demonstrate David’s ability to successfully juggle numerous life responsibilities. He truly represents the strong work ethic and grit of the farmworker communities that we serve.”