It’s been quite a journey for Wanda Rodriguez to get to where she is now.
And she hasn’t got plans to stop anytime soon.
Rodriguez is currently in the process of purchasing her first house. In January, she will enroll at Rutgers-Newark to pursue a master’s degree in social work—a goal that she’s been pursuing, but has eluded her, for a few years. Her classes will begin in January of 2016.
“If you really want to pursue something, it’s a matter of determination,” said Rodriguez, 32.
She’s come a long way since first walking through the doors of New Community in 2004.
Martina Lopez-Nunez has known Rodriguez for years and first met her when she signed up for English classes at what’s now called the NCC Adult Learning Center, where Lopez-Nunez is the program coordinator.
The two women struck up a conversation that eventually grew into a mentorship relationship, according to Rodriguez.
In addition to the English for Speakers of Other Languages class, Rodriguez enrolled in a computer course at the center. She was hungry to gain skills and better her circumstances, having moved to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic just two years earlier.
Equipped through the ESOL class, Rodriguez enrolled at Essex County College, where she earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education. Next, she went to Rutgers-Newark to earn her bachelor’s degree in social work.
However, it wasn’t an easy road, Rodriguez acknowledged. She juggled three jobs to support herself, taking on gigs like cleaning bathrooms in a municipal building or working at fast food joints, and recalled riding a bicycle to her various responsibilities for several months.
But over time her career progressed, step by step. After landing jobs in early childhood education, Rodriguez was hired to oversee student social work cases at Eastside High School in Paterson. Most recently, she was selected to become director of the high school’s daycare center.
“I see a lot of families that need support,” Rodriguez said, noting that her current role bridges her passion for the classroom with her interest in social work.
For Lopez-Nunez, Rodriguez’s educational and career path over the last 11 years is a testament to the Adult Learning Center’s role in helping to build lives and launch careers.
“That is very satisfying,” Lopez-Nunez said of serving as a mentor figure and witnessing Rodriguez’s progress.
For Rodriguez, the message she said she’d like to impart on young people who find themselves in a similar situation is this: don’t give up.
“I try to give them the message (that) you can do whatever you want to do,” she said adding, “It’s a matter of hard work.”