Whether she’s working with incoming Cornell students in the university’s Prefreshman Summer Program or underserved BIPOC teens who have the potential to one day enroll at an Ivy League university, Cathy Rodriguez ’22 makes a point to reveal just how deeply she relates to what they face. A first-generation college student of Afro-Latina descent who graduated from a public high school in central New Jersey, Rodriguez sees such revelations as a way to build community and energize fellow youth of color. Says Rodriguez: “I want to use my story to inspire other students.”
Rodriguez is still exploring career options, but already knows her work will involve education, public health, and youth, and it will probably look a lot like what she currently does as a resident advisor in Akwe:kon, Cornell’s Native American and Indigenous program house, and as a mentor for the Human Ecology Peer Partnership Program, which pairs juniors and seniors with first-year and transfer students of color. “I’m thinking about ways to be an advocate, make education more accessible,” says the Human Development major. “People kind of wonder why I’m going to an Ivy League to work in education—I’m going to be in a position to actively change it.”
"Coming up with plans that could be implemented, ways of intervention, that was really new to me. To be challenged in such a way has made me grow intellectually—if there’s an issue I’m learning about, it’s my job to do something about it. Finding ways to get involved is something the college has expressed as our duty".
As secretary and treasurer of Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Señoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, Rodriguez has pursued multiple opportunities to pursue education and outreach in the Ithaca area. “We’re a tightknit community of women who want to have an impact,” says Rodriguez. “We live through our goals and ideals and carry them out very seriously.” This year the sorority has expanded its commitment to literacy beyond reading to address civic literacy, including a power-of-the-vote campaign, and mental health literacy, including self-care and grief and loss during the pandemic. In 2020, in recognition of her commitment, Rodriguez was inducted into the Order of Omega, an honor society for leaders within the Greek community.
Rodriguez credits her Human Development coursework with deep relevance. Consider one of her favorite classes, HD3290, Self-regulation Across the Lifespan. When the course started in January 2020, Covid-19 hadn’t yet reached the U.S. By the time the semester ended, pandemic-related tumult had Rodriguez applying—and sharing—her newly acquired insights into the psychology and physiological mechanisms of emotion, physical energy, motivation, and goal-setting, as well as strategies for surmounting the inevitable barriers to self-regulation. “It was phenomenal,” she says. “The professor was passionate and knowledgeable and the content was just so useful.”
Perhaps no lesson has echoed so fully through her Human Ecology courses, says Rodriguez, as the responsibility to pursue action in response to what she’s learning. “Coming up with plans that could be implemented, ways of intervention, that was really new to me,” she says. “To be challenged in such a way has made me grow intellectually—if there’s an issue I’m learning about, it’s my job to do something about it. Finding ways to get involved is something the college has expressed as our duty.”