You don't have to be perfect, just be passionate about your goals - Jacki Rodriguez

Jacki RodriguezWhen I came to the University of Memphis in 1999, I thought I was going to breeze right through. I was from a small town in middle Tennessee called Hohenwald and I was Valedictorian of my class. I never struggled there academically. I had a 4.0 since middle school. I remember being so excited and thrilled when I got my admission letter. I was a first-generation student and I was going to go to college. However, it wasn't as simple as I thought it would be. I had the grades, but my ACT wasn't perfect and my mother (a single parent) didn't have the financial resources to allow me to not work during college. I also ended up having to take a remedial math course my first semester and then all of a sudden, I wasn't the smartest girl in my class. I was the one having to catch up to everyone else. It was incredibly difficult for me to accept that I wasn't prepared for college and I was terrified that I would let my mother down because she worked so hard so her daughters could have a college education.

That first semester, was all about feeling like I didn't belong, like I was some sort of imposter on campus- faking my way through and pretending like I had all of the answers like I used to in high school. I had to relearn everything like how to study, how to manage my time, and how to navigate much larger surroundings than I was used. I watched other first-gen students that were from the same type of small town that I was, leave after one semester and go back home and I knew that I could just as easily quit if I didn't find my motivation. To top it all off, I was also undecided and had no clue what a major meant or how to go about finding one. It all seemed like it was going downhill fast.

I had a lot going against me, but I had even more going for me in the form of a large and diverse support group on campus filled with faculty/staff members, tutors, peers and even a new student organization. I didn't even realize that I had this support at first until I finally broke out of my shell and asked someone for help. That first voice of reason was my math teacher, Mrs. Pinchback. She gave me the confidence to try and showed me that my doubts were just in my head. I had all the tools that I needed to do well in college, I just needed to learn how to use them. I found other students facing the same obstacles as me and got support within departments first as a Communications major, then as a Theatre Performance major and then with other students in Public Relations when I changed my major for the fourth time. It isn't ideal, but changing majors happens and college is all about finding who you are and making sure that you find the major that fits you. If you don't know what you want to do, come talk to us. I speak from personal experience when it comes to finding a major-it isn't always easy and you may get behind, but you can always finish and there are programs in place to make sure you do walk across that stage with a diploma. You don't have to be perfect, you just have to be passionate about your goals.

My relationships with staff and faculty and my network of friends are what made me realize that I could do this and I never would've known that if I hadn't reached out to that first person. Because of the network of support that I had, that first-gen girl in remedial math graduated summa cum laude in four years despite the slow start. "As first-generation students, we face more obstacles than most, but sometimes that biggest obstacle is ourselves. Be fearless in your pursuits. Be your biggest advocate and never ever let anyone tell you what you can't do." You're a Tiger now. Your possibilities are endless and if you have a question or concern, we are here for you every step of the way. My door is always open.

Jacki Rodriguez  |  301 Mitchell Hall  |  jpsavell@memphis.edu  |  901.678.6041