Maria Elena Rodriguez is a Senior Administrative Coordinator at the Brownsville Regional Campus. This month, Rodriguez sits down and talks to us about her life’s journey and how it lead to UTHealth School of Public Health at Brownsville.
“I was born on what we call the ‘rancho’ outside of the city of Matamoros, Mexico. When I was 8 years old we moved to the US in the middle of the school year. It was a huge traumatic shift for me to start attending school in Texas, in a language I didn’t know in a very different environment. I still remember feeling like I had landed on another planet. It was super challenging to adjust, and I didn’t want to go to school at all. There was one teacher, Ms. Limon, who took me under her wing and helped me.”
By her second year of third grade Rodriguez, the school made her repeat a year because of the language, Rodriguez had mastered English and felt more adjusted.
“But I’ve never forgotten how it felt to be an outsider, and I think that is partly why I like helping others.”
Rodriguez married and had children young, but she eventually landed a job at a garment factory in Brownsville. After 10 years of working she became a line inspector.
“It was challenging work to make sure we kept up with the quotas and I worked hard those years!”
When the factory closed down and moved out of town, the company gave laid off workers an opportunity to go back to school or enter training programs. Rodriguez chose to study for a certificate as a computer specialist. “While I was studying at the college, I landed a program assistant position on a grant with a local school district.” In 2001, when a friend told her about an administrative assistant position at the UT School of Public Health campus just opening in Brownsville, she applied and got the job.
“When I started, everything was brand new and we didn’t even have a building. All four of us employees, including Dr. McCormick, the founding campus dean and Dr. Fisher-Hoch, the first faculty member, all shared a small room as our office. I’ve watched our campus grow and I feel proud of all the work we do, especially in the community. I feel like I’ve been a part of building this institution and I love what I do! I’ve learned so much, been exposed to more diversity, learned about research and mostly had opportunities to help people. I’m so grateful for this work and proud to play a role in it!”
Rodriguez wants other young women from her community to know that even if they don’t have a lot of education or married young like she did, it doesn’t have to stop them from becoming someone who contributes to their community. “Reach for your goals, take opportunities and enjoy what you do!”