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Humans of the U: Leslie Rodriguez

“I grew up on the west side of Salt Lake County, in West Valley City. The community I grew up in was very diverse and I saw many different and interesting perspectives. I also saw a lot of poverty and crime. Though I grew up decently, my family did rely on resources from the school and community. I am half Native American and half Latino, as well as neurodivergent, so I had many things stacked against me going to college.

Growing up, I had many people tell me my disability would get in the way of me going to college. But their doubt caused me to push myself even harder towards pursuing higher education. I applied for many scholarships, and at the U I received the For Utah Scholarship, the American Indian Leadership Scholarship and the Opportunity Scholarship. I received these scholarships because of my determination, and they made it possible for me to fulfill my goal of going to college.

Coming to the U has helped me connect more deeply with my culture. Here, I joined the Inter-tribal Student Association (ITSA), which helped me find a sense of community and belonging here on campus. This year, I am president of the association. The support I found through ITSA is why I’ve excelled at the U.

I am also a Providing Access Through High School (PATHS) mentor and in that position, I get to help high school students achieve their dream of pursuing higher education. I get to reach out to students on the west side of Salt Lake City and help them know what the U has to offer them. I am really happy that I get to give back in that way.

I’ve applied to the U’s Educational Leadership and Policy program for grad school because I want to work in higher ed administration to make college more accessible for students of color and students from lower-income backgrounds. As someone from these backgrounds, I want to improve systems so that these students have the help they need to achieve their dreams.

I’m happy with how far I’ve come as someone who was told as a child that I wouldn’t achieve very much. But here I am as a senior in college, achieving all these things.”

— Leslie Rodriguez, a senior in criminology and ethnic studies honors from West Valley,

current Inter-Tribal Student Association President