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Paving Her Own Path

Rodriguez shoulders financial burden to become
first-generation college student

By Stephen Sellner | Citizens Bank Staff

Daniela Rodriguez loves being independent.

Some of that independence is by choice. Take her love for DIY projects, for example. Then there’s independence out of necessity, like affording her college dream with all financial aid and parental resources exhausted, all while being the first in her family to apply to college.

“I didn’t have anything to fall back on,” Daniela said.

But Daniela assured her family that she’d figure it out. Even if she wasn’t entirely sure how.

Today, everything has fallen into place for Daniela. She’s in the spring semester of her freshman year at Florida International University in Miami, pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. One day, Daniela, 18, hopes to have a career in prosthetics, a passion of hers that she realized in high school.

Daniela’s path is laid out in front of her. But this time last year, that path was a tad murky.

She was accepted to Florida International in October 2017. Daniela’s parents knew their independent daughter was capable of handling the application process on her own, and their faith was rewarded. But they couldn’t help but worry over how their daughter would make the money work.

Financial aid and out-of-pocket resources were already tapped, but there were still pending fees that needed to be paid. Where that extra funding would come from was a burden for Daniela to bear alone.

“I was getting really nervous,” she admitted.

Daniela was accepted to Florida International University in Miami in October 2017.

Daniela applied for scholarships to try to fill the funding gap. But with writing far from her strong suit, she wasn’t having much luck.

“I applied for so many scholarships and I kept either getting rejected or not getting an email back,” Daniela explained. “But I kept applying.”

Daniela continued to search for scholarships and worked with teachers to proofread her essay submissions. Then, one day, she stumbled upon the $2,500 Citizens Bank-Unigo scholarship and applied.

This time, there was good news. Daniela had been awarded the scholarship.

The fees that had been causing her and her family stress were now taken care of.

“I immediately went running towards my mom,” Daniela said. She could tell how relieved her mother was that her independent daughter kept her word — she had figured out how to make the finances work after all.

Daniela would be the first in her family to attend college.

Without the fees to worry about, Daniela could focus her attention on what really mattered: her school work and her dream of working in prosthetics.

Her interest in prosthetics started back in high school. Daniela attended a technical high school, which gave her first-hand experience in various fields. Some of those experiences were at hospitals and medical offices, including one office that specialized in prosthetics. During that clinical, Daniela saw how prosthetics were made and the process a patient endures with their prosthetic.

It struck a chord with her right away.

“That was the most rewarding experience I had,” Daniela said. “It taught me so much and was the push that ensured me that that was what I wanted to do.”

It also gives her an opportunity to work in the medical field, even if she never saw herself as a doctor. “I felt prosthetics was a happy medium because it’s medical, but still allows me to express creativity,” Daniela explained.

At Florida International, Daniela is just beginning her journey. She’s adjusting to college life as a freshman, getting involved with the Student Government Association (SGA) and navigating college-level classes. Daniela knows that in an engineering program, the courses will only get harder from here on out, up until her graduation in 2022. That’s especially the case if she pursues a master’s in biomedical engineering afterwards, like she wants.

Still, Daniela knows her financial obstacles aren’t entirely tabled. She’s hoping to qualify for work study as a peer advisor, then apply for scholarships again next year. Luckily, Daniela isn’t one to let a rejection or two get the best of her. And if the past is any indication, her determination will pay off.

But those are problems for another day. For now, Daniela is content to sit back and acknowledge what she’s already accomplished on her own — and how she’s set her future up for success.

“Getting here,” Daniela said, “is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.”

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