Education student named 2021 Truman Scholarship finalist

Melanie Rodriguez is one of 193 finalists from 129 institutions vying for the influential Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

This year, the Truman Scholarship Foundation received 845 applications from 328 institutions – a record number of applicants. Truman Scholars receive up to $30,000 for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities and have opportunities for internships and employment with federal government.

Created by Congress in 1975, the foundation was suggested by President Truman as a living memorial that would give life to the values of service that animated his career. The scholarship is billed as the premiere graduate fellowship for people pursuing careers as public service leaders.

Rodriguez represents FIU and is one of two finalists from public universities in Florida.

She stared out as a communications major because she wanted a career in the arts. Rodriguez then realized she could achieve that in another way – a way that combined her other love, education.

The first-generation college student spent much of her time growing up doing homework in waiting rooms. Her younger brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was very little. Physical and occupational therapy appointments were almost everyday things for the family. It’s where her interest in education sparked when other kids in the waiting rooms asked her to teach them how to read and solve math problems.

“I saw what all these kinds of programs did for my brother,” Rodriguez said. “Teachers, especially special education teachers, play a crucial role in students’ development.”

Today, Rodriguez is a junior majoring in Exceptional Student Education with a focus on special education, educational foundations and policy, and, is minoring in English. She is a tutorial coordinator for FIU’s Student Support Services (TRIO), where she assists students through workshop programming and tutoring with the goal of not only helping them complete their bachelor’s degree but also pursue graduate programs.

TRIO graduate assistant and 2016 Truman Scholar Wendy Ruiz encouraged Rodriguez to apply for the Truman Scholarship.

“It was really cool to have that connection because she is also a first-gen student,” Rodriguez said. “We shared a lot of the same obstacles, questions and doubts.”

As part of the extensive application process, Rodriguez spoke about her hope of creating a safer and more student-focused school system. It starts be eliminating the use of seclusion and restrain practices used for special education students, she said.

Before tackling those problems, Rodriguez plans to pursue a master’s degree in education leadership with a concentration in arts education and arts policy. Once she has her degree in hand, it’s off to gain classroom experience, whether that be in a school or community center.

“It’s going to help me be the most effective policy maker,” Rodriguez said. “I want to open a community arts non-profit where I’m able to offer academic and arts services to the students.”

In addition, Rodriguez currently serves as program coordinator for Culture Shock Miami, where she provides 13- to 22-year-olds with access to the arts. Last year, the Global Learning Medallion student served as campus director for the Millennium Fellowship and co-founded Let Your Voices Echo — an arts and activist, or “artivism,” initiative.