Outstanding family and consumer sciences grad overcame homelessness to earn degree

December 21, 2015

Cassandra Rodriguez

Cassandra Rodriguez has overcome numerous challenges on the road to achieving her long-term goal - graduation from Colorado State University with a degree in family and consumer sciences. Rodriguez was the recipient of a CSU Service-Learning Award, and in her discipline of FCS, she landed a coveted teaching position before even graduating. Not only has Rodriguez succeeded in earning her degree, but she also overcame challenges included not having a place to live or a steady income to support herself and her child.

Born and raised in Fort Collins, Rodriguez earned her A.A. degree at Front Range Community College and then transferred to CSU, which offers the family and consumer sciences major. "When I first began college, I was couch-surfing with my daughter. I stayed with friends and my grandma for little bits of time, bouncing around for almost a year before I had two friends that took us in until I could secure a steady job. Once I did, it took me about a year to get financially set up to move into an apartment for just my daughter and me," Rodriguez recalls.

Rodriguez did not have support from her family. "My family has always had issues stemming from addiction and abuse. When I was in my second year as a transfer student at CSU, my five younger brothers and sisters finally got removed from their home." For a few months, Rodriguez had three of her younger brothers and sisters living with her until they were permanently placed with family members.

"I had to overcome many personal obstacles such as dealing with depression, abandonment, anger, learning healthy boundaries, and managing many changing roles," she says.

In majoring in family and consumer sciences, Rodriguez says her original career goal was to run a teen parent program, yet she fell in love with all that the degree had to offer. "Not only will I be licensed to run a teen parent program if the opportunity arises, but I can teach all of the other topics that I am passionate about."

Cooking and culinary arts is one of those passions. Rodriguez is a recipient of the Les Dames d'Escoffier Colorado Chapter Scholarship Award, an honor that emphasizes scholarship and evidence of potential success in and surrounding the field of culinary arts. The family and consumer sciences major is an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary degree, and a portion of her coursework is within the culinary and nutrition field.

Rodriguez says she has had help from many people throughout her CSU career, but there are five women from the CSU community who have played a huge role in her success.

Dawn Mallette has been her adviser and professor for several classes and she provided moral support and encouragement throughout her journey. "I could not have grown as much as I have without her guidance," says Rodriguez.

Louise Jennings, professor in the School of Education, got Rodriguez involved in her Public Achievement for Community Transformation program, a service-learning and community action program for middle school youth. Rodriguez served as a youth coach and mentor for two years. "Louise has provided so many opportunities for me to develop and foster applicable skills for my future. She has always been willing to listen, and she believed in my capabilities, at times, more so than I did in myself," says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez held a work-study position in the School of Education, where her major is housed. She credits her supervisors, Heidi Propp and Susan Becker, with listening to her, lending a helping hand, and supporting her through her personal struggles.

Lastly, Rodriguez acknowledged Mona Steinke from CSU's Environmental Health Services as one of the most influential people in her life. "Our relationship began when she took my daughter and me in when we had nowhere to go. There are no words to express my gratitude to her and what she has done for me over the years," says Rodriguez.
In addition to completing her degree and all of her extracurricular activities, Rodriguez was also a head coach for her daughter's Odyssey of the Mind team. They took first in regionals, second in state, and went to Michigan to compete in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals.

The next part of Rodriguez's journey will take her to Erie High School, where she will be the Family and Consumer Sciences teacher. She is excited to be able to teach kids about food, nutrition, and wellness.

"I am beyond excited to begin what I set out to accomplish; it's even more exciting that I can honestly say I love and believe in what I do," says Rodriguez.

Contact:  Gretchen Gerding

Telephone:  970-491-5182