A Marine veteran was awarded the highest individual honor by Student Veterans of America.
Bonita Rodriguez, a 2019 graduate of Pace University, received the organization’s award because of her dedication to helping other student veterans in their transition. SVA is a coalition of student-veteran groups on college campuses across the globe, with 1,500+ chapters representing 750,000+ student veterans.
Rodriguez was working as an administration specialist in the Marine Corps when she decided to pursue college. But her reasons for this pursuit went beyond bettering herself. As a child she saw her parents, Mexican immigrants, work hard with little to show for it.
“They didn’t have many opportunities and seeing them work their butts off gave me the motivation to want to do more and show them what their hard work has provided for me,” she said.
As the first in her family to go to college, Rodriguez says she wanted to set an example.
“I have younger siblings and I want them to know there’s more out there in the world, and as long as you keep pushing yourself there are no limits.”
But the gap in school after completing high school left her feeling intimidated. Rodriguez, however, received an unexpected push from her master gunnery sergeant. He took time with her to make sure she researched information and would be set to reach higher when she left the military.
“He basically forced me to look up colleges and took his time to help Marines transition from active duty. To see someone so high up make time in their day to check on me and make sure I have a plan was really inspiring,” Rodriguez said.
So, she began her hunt.
Last year, Rodriguez graduated from Pace University with a degree in Information Technology. The process wasn’t easy but it was the intentionality of the military supportive programs the school offered that helped her process.
“They had a great student veterans’ chapter,” she said.
And she served as president of the chapter for two years, saying “it was this support that led me to choose Pace.”
According to Factsheets offered by PNPI, student veterans often face mental health challenges, loss of scholarships and 35% reported having suicidal thoughts.
Rodriguez says, “We were able to help each other transition from active duty, and keep other members proactive and motivated when it’s hard. Even when they don’t want to be here anymore.”
She is now employed at NBC Universal as a Rotational Media Tech. Much like her former military life, she spends eight months managing a project and employees then rotates to another site.
“I love it! I’ve experienced leading projects at a military level but our methods are different in business. I get to be creative and they are open to it.”
Her response to receiving the award is one of gratitude and pride. “It shows me how much of an impact the small things I did had on people’s journey. The little encouragement helped military veterans that were at their lowest who wanted to end their days.”
Rodriguez gives a charge to service members looking to pursue college.
“Before you transition, look at colleges that are veteran friendly and offer the yellow ribbon program. That will help you to not create debt. Also reach out to the veteran service offices on campus. Force yourself to make an introduction and ask questions.”Read comments