Making The World A Better and Brighter Place For Our Children: An Eternal Optimist’s Vocational Journey
ADALISS RODRIGUEZ, Division 3, Graduate school #ws16e-s3d3

My name is Adaliss (Ad-ah-lees) Rodriguez. I am an eternal optimist, circumstances notwithstanding. I enjoy my life: both the challenges as well as the opportunities. Growing up, I was proud to hail from a compassionate family of modest means, unremitting faith and unwavering commitment to “making the world a better place than you found it.” Following suit, I have leaped at the opportunity to honor this mantra, particularly in the field of all-encompassing child development. This is my story.

My preparation has been broadly in education, vulnerable populations, and importantly, in health. As a first year undergraduate, I founded Publishers, Inc., an after-school program designed to improve the writing and typing proficiencies of inner-city students. Ardently committed to student growth, I ignited gusto for the program and fostered a love for learning in my 15 at-risk students, which in turn inspired me to empower others through education. I soon realized, however, that a piece of my students’ educational experience was being compromised: their overall health and well-being. My students were malnourished, anxious and seemingly over-medicated. My observations roused in me fervor for service in public education and public health, informing my service commitments moving forward.
Over the next three years, I amassed rich civic service experiences, two of which have impacted me most profoundly: my service learning trip to the Dominican Republic and my founding of the UCONN K-5 and College Bound program. Within five months of launching Publishers, Inc., I was serving in the dilapidated sugar cane villages of the Dominican Republic, engaging children and adults on proper nutrition and teaching ESL in a public school. I continuously found my efforts rewarding, particularly when I acquiesced to a fervent group of youngsters beseeching me for extended nutrition lessons. I sensed their passion for learning in spite of a lack of basic health care, thus reinforcing my conviction of the importance of health and education.
My enthusiasm for public service soon led to the inception of K-5 and College Bound, an organization committed to early college awareness among at-risk, urban elementary school students. Leading a team of 43 driven undergraduates, I devoted months to demanding event planning. Witnessing the wide-eyed future college graduates set foot on the expansive UConn campus only intensified my zeal for organizing the most enriching events that K-5 and College Bound could offer.

In concert with my undergraduate and civic service background, my professional experiences, specifically my work with Teach For America (TFA) and Fulbright, have guided me to a career in research and policy advocacy. As a TFA Campus Campaign Coordinator, I refined my communication, public speaking, and networking skills. I cultivated strong presentation skills, preparing and delivering data-driven speeches campus-wide, while inspiring the nation’s finest prospective corps members. This sample of grassroots campaigning fomented a passion for broad scale human rights advocacy as opposed to ground level work. Likewise, my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Spain served as another invaluable opportunity to broaden my multicultural awareness and instructional repertoire. My Spanish proficiency enhanced my ability to partner with my non-native English speaking families towards the mastery of my students’ academic, physical and socio-emotional goals.
In 2011, I was hit by a drunk driver, leaving me incapacitated. Post-brain hemorrhage, -ruptured spleen, -broken ribs, -bleeding kidneys and -1.5 years of extreme sweat equity in physical and neuropsychological rehabilitation, I was accepted to two demanding programs at Harvard University.

Two years later, I earned a Masters degree in religion, ethics, and politics in the context of global health as it relates to all-encompassing children’s health. Unlike many Harvard masters graduates, I did not seek out a lucrative position. I instead took a leap of faith and decided to defer a doctoral program to which I had been admitted and accepted the offer to work for a severely undercapitalized organization servicing an under resourced local public school. This is all to say that I knowingly assumed a significantly lower pay grade by choosing to turn down a more remunerative job that offered less social impact.

I am currently employed at an international non-profit providing cross-cultural health education and psychological services for children, families and communities in order to meet the ever elevated need for social-emotional learning in public education. My primary role is teaching the organization’s Mindfulness-Based Learning™ curriculum to 300 students at a diverse multiethnic urban public school and assisting the school leadership team in realizing their vision of a mindful campus.

“This is a tough crowd. You need major grit. Are you sure you are prepared for this?”, were the words my mentor spoke to me before accepting this position.

And like clockwork, within 48 hours of my start date, I was struggling with 24-pupil classrooms manifesting tremendous emotional dysregulation. Ever committed to my personal philosophy, however, to love those who are hardest to love, as they need it the most, I have not wavered in my teaching convictions. It has taken considerable time and intentionality to build relationships with some of my most challenging individuals, but I am finally breaking ground. I feel deeply fortunate that these students in particular are beginning to feel empowered by numerous stress-ameliorating strategies and healthy habits for life that they continue to practice and reflect upon. I also appreciate their hard earned trust with their hopes, dreams, and heart rending personal stories.

As one might expect, I am honored to admit that this teaching assignment has had a tremendously informative impact on my professional goals and trajectory. While I have achieved success working 80+ hour-weeks, this is nowhere near the magnitude of all-encompassing growth that our nation’s youth, our most valuable asset, deserve. Indeed, I have only scratched the surface. I feel called to do more, to tackle intricate contemporary challenges, to help effect bigger, broader impact at the local and national level.

Certainly, this work has armed me with a cache of powerful lived experiences, and a fortified and insatiable thirst to engage in research, and legislative and program advocacy aimed at the health of disenfranchised children. My mission is to emanate the power of selfless service and mutual understanding as I strive to ensure the fundamental human right of disadvantaged youth to the highest viable standard of health care and education. More specifically, I will help to improve the economic and life outcomes of underserved children through evidence-based, outcome-driven, and sustainable educational programs nationwide. My doctoral program will equip me with these skills.

I am prepared to take my efforts to the next level through the realization of three major aims during and upon completion of my doctoral program. In order to achieve my overarching mission, as it relates to policymaking specifically, I hope to pursue three goals, each building on the other; namely, to become a seasoned research scientist, to consult non-governmental agencies nationwide, and to help inform health policy and programming through empirical research and publications. As a doctoral candidate, I am eager to launch applied training in theories, methods, and on-the-ground research required to collect and analyze data, and make evidence-based recommendations. The aforementioned will help me cultivate the knowledge base and skill needed to support the capacity of NGOs committed to the health of at-risk infants and children through ongoing trainings, program evaluation and consultation. Training in theories and methods and increased experience with NGOs on the ground will then segue into my ultimate goal to craft and endorse more effective policies pertaining to the health and wellness of neglected and/or poverty-stricken youngsters in the United States.
While I continue to contend with the daily fiscal struggle of a young first-generation, professional navigating an ever increasing cost of living, decreasing savings and increasing student loan payments, I am doubly impacted by the sheer fact that my current position has not monetarily set me up with adequate savings for doctoral work in the Fall of 2016. Historically, I have struggled to ask for help. My mentor insists that - because I was not born to a prosperous family and I currently live paycheck to paycheck working at a funding-stretched organization - I humbly ask for support meeting the expenses of this doctoral program lest I not realize my personal and professional goals. I need your help to afford graduate school so that I can help to effect broad-scale change for more than 16 million at-risk youth in the US alone. (National Center for Children in Poverty, ""Child Poverty"", n.d.) The Writer’s Square Scholarship will play a gracious and significant role in helping me meet associated education and living expenses accrued during my first year of rigorous doctoral training, specifically as I strive to realize a three-pronged goal that is essential to developing and endorsing cutting-edge, scientifically corroborated solutions to our nation and world’s highest social needs in the field of child development.

Help me to make the world a better and brighter place for our nation’s youth.

Work Cited
Child Poverty. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2016, from
http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html
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