Amazing Opportunities Await

Photo credit: Brandon Parigo, Strategic Marketing and Communications

Possibilities Seem Endless for Avanzando Graduate

She graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, worked in D.C., met President Obama and went on a trip to Japan. Jessica Rodas, an Avanzando graduate, is excited about what’s still in store for her and encourages students to take advantage of available opportunities.

Rodas transferred to UMKC from Kansas City, Kansas Community College and became part of the Avanzando Scholarship program, which provided academic support and mentoring. The program scholarships are provided by the Hispanic Development Fund.

“I met Jessica in the summer of 2012. She was transferring from KCKCC and getting ready to start her first semester at UMKC,” said Marji Datwyler, director of Avanzando, in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion. “I asked her what she was most looking forward to, and she responded, ‘Wow, what am I not looking forward to.’ ”

Datwyler invited Rodas to attend the Avanzando Summer Enrichment Program, even though she had no knowledge of the program – or of UMKC, for that matter.

“I didn’t know much about UMKC, didn’t know anyone, and certainly didn’t know what exactly I was getting into. After meeting with Marji and participating in the program, I instantly felt at home,” said Rodas. “The program was much more than a program, it was a family that understood what I was going through and welcomed me to UMKC with open arms.”

Rodas saw the possibilities and took advantage of them, both at the university and in the community, where she served as a student assistant and ambassador, was a founder of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Incorporated and a volunteer at United Way of Great Kansas City and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County. She also was a community leader with Google.

Rodas participated in the Avanzando Research Scholars Program, which she did in conjunction with her Honors thesis, Students Engaged in Artistic and Academic Research and Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity. Her research paper, “An Evaluation of the Hispanic/Latino Community in its Relationship with Public Health Related Organizations in Greater Kansas City,” was completed with assistance from faculty sponsors Miguel Carranza, Ph.D., former director of the Latina/Latino Studies Program, and Janis Ellis-Claypool.

Rodas moved through her college years with an attitude of excitement even though her path was not easy. She said without the financial and personal support from HDF, Avanzando and its affiliates, it would have been difficult for her to complete the degree.

She recently offered encouragement and shared some of her challenges with the crowd at the Avanzando Welcome Reception, which she described to those waiting to receive their mentors: “It’s like Oprah’s annual giveaway, except it’s priceless,” she said.

“As a college student, you have many different areas in your life to focus on and balance.  Things like la familia y las responsabilidades, school and homework, identity, relationships, el trabajo y mucho mas [work and much more],” said Rodas.

“And to add yet another layer called college, many of you can probably relate to part of this.  College was a struggle. If not ‘the struggle.’ Not only was I figuring out who I was, but I was accomplishing a lot, and breaking so many rules and expectations on both cultural sides of my life,” said Rodas.

Rodas explained that as a first generation college student, the oldest child in her family and a female, she felt she had numerous strikes against her and was either falling short of her parents or the schools’ expectations.

In the fall of 2014, she met Leo Prieto, director of Community Engagement at Truman Medical Centers. He became her mentor in the program, but he assisted her in numerous ways, including providing personal and professional advice.

“Leo was great in reshaping my perspective in how I viewed my role with my family, school and life,” said Rodas. “I was so focused on what I had to do for my family and everyone around me, that I was losing sight of myself. Since graduation, Leo has continued to be awesome,” she said.

Prieto sent information to Rodas about the Public Policy Fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, encouraging her to apply. Rodas was one of 10 Fellows selected nationally and was accepted as a health policy fellow with U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz, M.D., from California and the Department of Health and Human Services. She believed her experience was a great beginning.

“I went on a trip to Japan through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan where I learned about political and social issues facing Japan and US-Japanese foreign affairs,” said Rodas. “I met President Obama, Hillary and members of the Japanese Parliament, and high-fived Nancy Pelosi. What’s most exciting is that this is only the beginning of my career – and what a way to start it!” concluded Rodas.

Rodas spent approximately nine months in the fellowship program, recently returned to Kansas City to work before going to graduate school.

Established in 2011, Avanzando currently supports approximately 70 recipients of the Hispanic Development Fund and the Agapito Mendoza scholarships in their academic and career pursuits. This retention and graduation program is a partnership between the UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion and HDF and includes academic support, mentoring and enhanced access to campus and community resources.




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