Deborah Rodriguez knew that Samford University would be her college choice after her first meeting with the admissions counselor who was assigned to south Florida.
“I had had many conversations with admission counselors from different schools, and it was the first time I felt like I was valued as more than just a number. I felt like Samford was interested in me as a person,” recalls the Samford sophomore from Miami, Fla.
“I wanted to be part of a community like that, where I felt truly loved and cared for, and I found that here, even before I moved in. The fact that I was made to feel like I belonged, even while I still lived 800 miles away, was the selling point.”
Her liking Samford—and Samford’s being highly impressed with her—was not enough to ensure that the high school honors student would be able to enroll. There were financial hurdles to overcome.
“My family does not have the means for me to attend any private university,” explains Rodriguez, whose parents, both Hispanic immigrants, work hard but earn just enough to provide basic needs.
That, says Rodriguez, is “A reality that is true for so many people. Thankfully, Samford took the time to explore my reality and provide aid where there was need.”
Her stellar high school record and other qualities earned her a Presidential scholarship and a spot in the highly competitive University Fellows program.
The University Fellows Program, Samford’s new premier academic program for undergraduates, selected fewer than seven percent of the freshman class as participants.
Rodriguez was one of only 31 entering freshmen selected for the Presidential Scholarship, awarded on the basis of academic achievement, college entrance scores, demonstrated leadership ability and personal interview.
She has also benefited from additional scholarships that will enhance her college study. Her financial package includes monies from endowed funds that, without the generosity of donors, would not be available.
The University Fellows program, she says, has been a blessing that has challenged her both intellectually and spiritually, caused her to explore and define her beliefs, expand her ideas, “and think beyond the obvious and comfortable.”
“It is such a place of growth, I embrace it,” says the English major who is considering adding a second major in psychology.
One day last fall, she was honored to introduce her father to her University Fellows classmates.
David Rodriguez is a bi-vocational pastor who arrived in the U.S. in 1980 from Cuba as part of the Mariel Boatlift. He shared his story, which includes a decade of wandering in a moral wilderness before reclaiming his Christian faith, with the class.
His talk complimented his daughter’s reading of her essay, Y Dios Me Salvo (And God Save Me), which described his escape from Cuba. The piece was winner of a National Scholastic Art and Writing Award.
Rodriguez says her parents see Samford as a blessing to the whole family. “I think if my father could, he’d enroll!” she said.
With the help of her professors, she is identifying and refining her career goals and future plans.
“I am fascinated by cultures and their differences,” said Rodriguez, who wants to explore those differences in her writings, bringing “knowledge where once there was ignorance,” and “understanding where there once was condemnation.”
Samford is better because of students such as Rodriguez, and the world promises to be a better place because the two have connected.