|Love of History Defines MLA Gradís Future|
For Melanie Rodriguez, her love of history is not confined to events of the past, but also defines the course of her future.
Rodriguez, a 2007 University of St. Thomas history graduate, will receive her Master in Liberal Arts with a concentration in history at the University’s 59th Commencement on May 16 at Reliant Arena. She received a full scholarship to the Doctoral Program in Borderlands History at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), and will serve as a teaching assistant in large survey classes of United States and world history.
Her love of history was initially ignited by her eighth-grade history teacher at F.M. Black Middle School who hooked his pupils on history by “getting into character,” and teaching from the perspective of those whose stories were recorded over time.
“It was the first time that history had been taught to me in such an engaging way,” Rodriguez said. “He inspired me to teach history, and made me want to inspire other students to take an interest in history. I wanted to take the teaching profession as far as I could, so I set my sights on becoming a university history professor.”
After graduating from Waltrip High School, Rodriguez took classes at Houston Community College and held down a full time job until she applied to UST. The University’s curriculum enabled Rodriguez to combine her passion for history and helped further develop her interest in theology. As an undergraduate, Rodriguez described herself as shy and hesitant until she met Dr. Mark Nicholas, assistant professor of history.
“Dr. Nicholas helped me learn how to do scholarly research and really taught me to read and write history,” she said. “With opportunities like the capstone project, UST really encourages students to interact with. At my previous school, it was my natural inclination to drift through with very little contact with anybody, and sit in the back of the room without participating. But working with Dr. Nicholas helped bring me out of my shell. Once I was in the MLA program and I told Dr. Nicholas that I was interested in a pursuing a PhD, he took me in and started shaping me, told me what to expect, and how to prepare.”
Nicholas also directed Rodriguez to the Borderlands History program at UTEP.
When she questioned postponing her application to UTEP due to the recent loss of a close friend, Rodriguez recalled the history faculty’s overwhelming support.
“The history professors rallied to help me get my application out at the last minute,” she said.
“Melanie Rodriguez has proven time and again how much she deserves this masterful achievement,” Nicholas said. “A full scholarship to UTEP will allow her to continue to pursue her dreams. I have no doubt that Melanie will succeed. Her work ethic is unmatched.”
The opportunity to enroll in UTEP’s Doctoral Program in Borderlands History will not only fulfill Rodriguez’s girlhood dream to become a history professor, but also gives her a chance to explore her Hispanic heritage.
“I have a passion to learn more about my ethnic background, and to learn more about the border struggle,” Rodriguez said. “Back in 2005, the border was a big issue with protests and immigration debates that received a lot of media attention. Those debates are still ongoing. When that happened, I felt that it was part of my duty as a Hispanic to learn as much as I could about the history of the border, immigration and race relations. It is one thing to feel passionately about something, but if you don’t know the history, it is hard to stand up and speak for people whom, I feel, too often don’t have a voice.”
As the first of six children to come to a university, Rodriguez also hopes to serve as a role model for the younger generations of her family.
“My family struggled so much when I was growing up; I received grants and scholarships to be able to go to college,” she said. “Coming to UST to earn my undergraduate and master’s degrees was one of the best things to happen to my whole family. I have 18 nieces and nephews. Part of the reason I am pursuing my doctorate is so they can see that you can achieve anything when you put your mind to it.”