By: Lauren Bugg
For junior applied health major Kathryn Rodrigues, the call to serve her country comes often and early. All of the six a.m. wakeup calls, dedication and selfless service seemed worth the sacrifice for Rodrigues when on October 1, 2010, she was nationally recognized as the recipient of the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award Corporation (HENAAC) Cadet Role Model Award.
This award is meant to honor Hispanic students who excel in the areas of science, engineering, technology and math. The nominees are evaluated by a HENAAC committee accompanied by professionals in the fields of business, academics and government. Their qualifications are based on scholarship and merit.
Rodrigues was nominated by her superiors, and notified only a week before flying off to Florida to receive the award.
“I thought it was a joke,” Rodrigues said. “I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ I guess I was just short changing myself.”
Major Mark Goeller, the assistant professor of military science leadership and APU’s Army ROTC cadet leader, has known Rodrigues since she was in high school.
“[Rodrigues is] positive, optimistic…and brings up a group. She’s a team player,” Goeller said. “It’s a great recognition of the caliber of our cadets that she can stand out nationwide.”
Rodrigues was among six other cadets who were presented with the HENAAC award at a luncheon in front of a reported crowd of 300 people. Representatives from all branches of the military, as well as CEOs from businesses such as AT&T, attended the event.
“It was a pretty big deal,” Rodrigues said. ”Everyone kept coming up to me and saying congratulations. It was also a pretty big deal because I was the only girl.”
Rodrigues also had the privilege of meeting many high-ranking military officials. One such person she got to meet was the man who won Drill Sergeant of the Year.
“You have to stand a certain way when you are talking to a drill sergeant, but he said, ‘Oh no, relax, I’m going to be saluting you here pretty soon,’” Rodrigues said. “It was super surreal.”
Receiving the HENAAC Award has further motivated and affirmed Rodrigues’ already enthusiastic involvement in ROTC.
“It has definitely encouraged me to do better and set my goals higher in everything,” Rodrigues said.
After three years, Rodrigues still eagerly discusses her involvement in the ROTC program.
“It has taught me a lot of stuff about myself and pushed me in ways I’ve never thought I’d ever be challenged,” Rodrigues said. “Being able to get up at 5 in the morning, put on a huge rock backpack and march up Garcia trail. I’ve even repelled down 100-foot tower, and shot M-16s. I never would have been able to do that if I hadn’t done this program.”
While at times she doubts her somewhat unconventional college path, Rodrigues considers the achievements and friendships made to be worth any sacrifices she has had to make.
Motivations for joining ROTC can be as diverse as the cadets that make up APU’s battalion of soldiers; however, Rodrigues’ particular drive comes from an inner desire to succeed.
“I like it because I’ve always liked competing against boys and beating them.” Rodrigues said. “I also like encouraging other girls to do that too. It’s like having a family.”
Volunteer work has been an area of interest for Rodrigues. Along with volunteering for Invisible Children and Multiple Sclerosis aid organizations, Rodrigues has spent time working in a hospital setting. Rodrigues says every time she volunteers, it is an experience.
“In the ER, you never know what’s going to come through that door. I love learning and being busy,” Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues volunteers four hours per week at the Foothill Presbyterian General hospital where she gets to experience the different sectors of hospital activities.
“I’ve done the ER, and right now I’m on labor and delivery. I just saw my first live delivery this week. It was insane!”
Rodrigues maintains a 3.54 GPA and is fully committed to her future as a Physician’s Assistant. She hopes to maximize her commitment to serving her country during her time in active duty through working in the Medical Corps.
“I definitely want to go oversees with the army and be able to do that because there is a huge shortage of doctors, so a lot more people are going to start seeing Physicians Assistants,” Rodrigues said. “It’s a little more hands on, and that’s what I like the best, that’s why I like volunteer. You get that contact with people.”
Rodrigues is in the middle of what she would regard as the most difficult year of her ROTC training. When considering the issue of time management, Rodrigues is the typical overworked student.
“That’s like the hardest thing for me, especially as a science major,” Rodrigues said. “I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights, trying to do homework and then get up early to go do things for ROTC.”
Looking back at her time in the program, Rodrigues said ROTC has been the foundation of her experience at APU.
Attending APU was her dream, but since finances were a struggle Rodrigues had to explore her options. Once she heard about ROTC she decided that the program would suit her personality and would be something she would enjoy.
Rodrigues’ decision was her own and she remained confident in it, regardless of the reactions from those closest to her. By dedicating herself to something she believed, Rodrigues has found fulfillment and proved she made the right choice.
“When (my parents) saw that I was having fun and that it suited me so well, they came around and were understanding,” Rodrigues said. “They were really proud of me, my mom was crying when I received the award. I was getting calls from all kinds of family members saying congratulations.”
When students question Rodrigues about the ROTC program, they always get a positive response. She encourages them to join in a Wednesday night workout and see what it’s about.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it. It’s not really a physical thing. It’s a mental thing,” Rodrigues said. “If someone doesn’t want to be there, they’re going to be miserable. You might be physically fit, but you won’t be able to endure because you don’t want to do it. I have the heart to do it.”