By Brenna Greene (’14)
SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University graduating senior Mariel Rodriguez is a triple major, Gates Scholar, and a first-generation college student, but the achievements for her are just beginning. This fall, Rodriguez will attend graduate school at Columbia University to pursue a career path much different than what she had envisioned as a freshman.
“I always dreamed of being a doctor when I was young. Probably midway through my second year at Gonzaga I realized that I didn’t know if that was the right thing for me, even though I knew I was super passionate about health,” said Rodriguez, who hails from Moses Lake, Wash.
This realization led Rodriguez to the study abroad experience of a lifetime. She was selected by the prestigious International Honors Program to travel to Southern India, Argentina, and South Africa to study public health policies in each country. The program teaches students about the influence of culture, community, and globalization on people’s health.
“During my time abroad, I focused on nutrition and physical activity and did research in every place. I absolutely fell in love with it and I decided that that’s what I wanted to do,” said Rodriguez. A passionate advocate for the reform of U.S. immigration laws, she led a hunger strike on campus in December this past year to help lobby for reform.
She was accepted to public health programs at six top-notch universities before deciding on Columbia, where she will earn a master’s in sociomedical sciences, a discipline that focuses on the social determinants of disease and health, including factors such as discrimination, stigma, and poverty.
The program also will allow Rodriguez to continue her passion for studying abroad and a certificate in global health.
“I will spend six months abroad in a Third World country looking at some determinants of health,” Rodriguez said. “There I will learn about a program that I can potentially bring back to the states.”
As she reflects on leaving Gonzaga, Rodriguez says the University has truly taught her how to be a person for others. She sees reflected not only in herself but in her classmates as well.
“Most of us are so willing to put other people first and make ourselves a tool for change. I think that this place has really prepared me emotionally, spiritually, and physically to go do something for the world,” she said. “Gonzaga is small and it gives you that love and support you need when you first get here but as time goes by it gives you the space to grow. I’m just so thankful because I’m ready to go out there and challenge people in a respectful way.”
On Sunday, May 11, she received bachelor’s degrees in Latin American relations, psychology, and Spanish.
Rodriguez eventually would like to work for UNICEF or the World Bank assessing food distribution worldwide. First, however, she wants to return to the town that shaped her, Moses Lake.
“Before I go out and do crazy things, I really want to go home and give back to the small little place that made me who I am,” Rodriguez said. “That’s a promise that I made to them and a promise I made to myself that I would come back and give them what they gave me.”