Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series of feature stories that highlight diversity on Florida Poly’s campus and celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Alieth Rodríguez walks the hallways of Florida Polytechnic University knowing she’s different than the students around her. She’s a female studying mechanical engineering, Latina, and in her thirties. There’s also nothing common about the baby stroller she pushes from class to class.
“I bring him to class often. Professors are actually very happy to have him,” said Rodríguez of her eight-month-old son, Tiago Andrés. “When he starts crying and screaming, I leave the class and come back once he’s calmed.”
Rodríguez, 34, completed seven semesters of industrial engineering in her home country of Colombia before coming to the United States in 2009 through a work exchange program.
“My goal was to learn English and go back to finish my degree, but God had other plans,” she said.
She worked as an au pair, knowing that at some point she would go back to school because education is one of her core values. But seven years passed before she stepped into a classroom again. She felt old and scared.
“I started at Florida Poly with a combination of fears. I felt like all odds were against me, but I didn’t care,” said Rodríguez. “I want to make my family proud. I know I can do this.”
Rodríguez learned respect as an important value growing up and said her fears were quickly dissipated by the accepting atmosphere at Florida Poly.
“There’s a very mature environment here. Nobody makes fun of my accent, everyone is very welcoming of the baby, and I’ve meet so many nice, supportive people,” she said.
On top of the four classes she’s taking before graduating in December and her new mom duties, Rodríguez works part-time as an office assistant. She also teaches elementary students twice a week about the principles of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Fortunately, her mother came from Colombia to help with the baby until she graduates.
“Latinos, we are very family oriented. Growing up surrounded by family, always tight,” she said.
However, sleep is short and fun is scarce for Rodríguez, even with family support.
“I’ve sacrificed my marriage life, trips to the beach, the movies, going out with friends. And classes are so hard I sometimes cry during homework,” she said, adding that her efforts have earned her straight As and a place on the President’s List.
Rodríguez said she’s learned to stay positive even in the worst of circumstances, because “Latinos keep smiling no matter what.” And it’s the value of perseverance what helps her keep her eyes on the prize.
“When I think about quitting, my husband tells me ‘do you want a $10-an-hour job for the rest of your life or do you want to make this temporary sacrifice for a better outcome,” she said. “As hard as things get, there’s no ‘poor me’ here. I’m getting my degree. I’m fighting for it, and I’m giving my kid a better life for it.”
Assistant Director of Communication