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Navigating Leadership and Building Community

First-generation student shares her exploration of community and scholarship during her time at Syracuse University.
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Sofia Rodriguez ’24 found her way to thrive at Syracuse University by serving in a wide range of leadership roles, advocating for causes and communities she’s passionate about, and embracing self-expression and growth.

Sofia Rodriguez ’24, a Remembrance Scholar and recently named Senior Class Marshal, shares her thoughts on leadership, community building and her commitment to supporting other first-generation students.

Rodriguez studies communication and rhetorical studies in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, with a focus on race and policy. Supported by the community and mentorship in the Our Time Has Come and Posse scholarship programs, Rodriguez found her way to thrive at Syracuse University. She has moved into a wide range of leadership roles to serve and advocate for communities she’s passionate about supporting, made connections and gained experience across the University, and embraced every opportunity to grow and express herself.

How has your involvement in activities at the University helped you develop your leadership skills?

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Sofia Rodriguez ’24

Coming into college, I had a narrow notion of leadership: somebody who can direct a large group of people on what to do and how to do it. But being a residential advisor has showed me what leadership styles should actually look like, and that to be a true leader you must be involved within your communities. You must, yes, lead by example—but also know how to interact in group settings. And being involved in a range of different spaces, like being president of student organizations such as Many2Come and a member of the Black Student Union, has shown me that leadership shows up in different ways.

For example, when Jada Marie Knight ’25 and I created From: Black Womxn, a dialogue series for IBPOC people to share experiences and support one another, we wanted to make a space dedicated to amplifying voices that are often disregarded or not heard. Leading these dialogues has helped me understand the importance of group communication and how dialogue is one of the greatest forms of resistance.

How do you view the role of communication in community building?

Being able to communicate is what allows for true community to establish. And it’s important to pay attention to different modes of communication—not only verbal—in the effort to understand one another and others’ boundaries, values, morals, goals. Communication allows for a healthier sense of connection with the people around us, and knowing what’s important to others allows us to understand not only different opinions but also to establish similarities and cross-cultural goals. Those are really important in community building.

You’ve earned several prestigious scholarships: Remembrance, Posse, Our Time Has Come. What does that mean to you?

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Rodriguez appreciates the value of service reinforced by the Posse, Our Time Has Come, and Remembrance programs. “Being a scholar in these programs has affirmed for me the importance of community service that shows up as ongoing support and connection with those you want to help.”

Coming to Syracuse, I knew I needed scholarship funding—it’s the only way that I’d be able to get an education. But as time has passed, I’ve come to realize that the scholarships I’m earning go way beyond funding, and they each mean something different to me.

Posse was the first organization to truly believe in me, and that made me feel they saw me as worthy—saw me as a person. Because of Posse, I was able to get my foot in the door and begin to establish myself as the person I strive to be.

Through Our Time Has Come (OTHC), I found community on Syracuse’s campus. Being surrounded by people who share so many of the experiences and aspects of identity as I have, was really comforting.

With OTHC and Posse, I have met incredible mentors. Ms. Angela [Angela Morales-Patterson], Maria Lopez and Bradley Seymour have watched me grow throughout my time here and have accepted me in all forms and ways that I came into and navigated spaces at Syracuse.

And now, I’ve been awarded the Remembrance Scholarship. Honestly, this was so surprising. It’s one of the most prestigious and to me—it means that I’m being seen and understood in ways that I never thought would be possible. It means people believe in me and my abilities. It also means, more than ever, that I have to work toward making my communities proud—but it shows me that the work I’m doing is worth it and that I’m able to be myself and express myself and still be seen.

With all the scholarships, a common theme is volunteering and community building. Those are values I learned from my mom and dad as well: the importance of giving back to the places that we come from and, as we move forward, making sure to never forget those who came before, and to pave the way for those who come after. Being a scholar in all three programs has affirmed for me the importance of community service that shows up as ongoing support and connection with those you want to help.

What did you think about being named a Senior Class Marshal?

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The scholarships and honors Rodriguez has been awarded have been deeply affirming. “I’m being seen and understood in ways that I never thought would be possible,” she says. “It shows me that the work I’m doing is worth it.”

That was some of the best news that I’ve received in my entire life. I saw everything come full circle—from coming in as a freshman feeling that I didn’t belong, to now representing my senior class. It’s been a very humbling and loving experience. I finally saw that all the work I’ve put in and all the people who have believed in me throughout my time here, even when I didn’t believe in myself—that it’s all come to fruition.

I’ve made so many connections here and so many people have stuck with me. I can now say that Syracuse University is home because of these people, because of the work that we’ve done together, and the work that we’ll continue to do. And the fact that we will all be Syracuse alumni means we’ll always be connected here. I never thought something like this could be possible.

So, being Senior Class Marshal is one of the greatest honors that I’ve ever received. And, boy, am I excited to be able to rep it in graduation!

Students sitting at sign up table.

As a residential advisor and in other leadership roles, Rodriguez has been dedicated to supporting other first-generation students on their college journeys.

What advice would you share with other first-generation students making the transition to college?

It’s not easy—don’t let anybody tell you it’s going to be—but good things in life don’t come easily. That’s something my mom and dad instilled in me from an early age. But this doesn’t mean that you always have to be resilient. You’re allowed to hurt. You’re allowed to struggle. You’re allowed to not be good at things when you first try them. Seek support. Seek help. It’s OK to need those things. And it’s helpful to learn how to ask for assistance!

But here’s another thing I want to say: I want you to know that I believe in you, and I’ll always believe in you. As my college journey is coming to an end—now that I’ve almost completed the experience of being a first-gen—I know that you can do it. I know that we can do it. No matter what, especially at Syracuse, there’s always somebody who will be rooting for you. And, as a soon-to-be Syracuse alum, you can add me to the list!

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