Georgia State University’s Perimeter College ranks fifth in the nation this year for the number of semifinalists named for the national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. The 12 Perimeter College semifinalists represent the majority of semifinalists from Georgia, and their number sets a record for the college. The Jack Kent Cooke selection committee chose 456 semifinalists from nearly 1,500 applicants attending 311 community colleges. We are featuring each of Perimeter’s semifinalists in articles on our News Hub. Below, we introduce you to one of them.
By Rebecca Rakoczy
Photo by Bill Roa
DUNWOODY, Ga—For most of her life, Vanessa Rodriguez has been keenly aware of problems affecting immigrant families. Her parents came to the United States from Mexico seeking work when she was barely a year old; it was more than a decade before her family received their visas.
Now 20, Rodriguez — a student at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College — says her own experiences have shaped her desire to become an immigration attorney.
An Honors College student at Perimeter, Rodriguez has excelled as she pursued a psychology pathway. Recently she was recognized as one of 12 Perimeter students selected as semifinalists for the national Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Winning the scholarship, which gives students up to $40,000 a year to complete their undergraduate degrees, would help her further her education, she said.
“Since I grew up an immigrant, it was natural for me to be interested in politics. I want to be an immigration lawyer to help bring families back together,” she said.
Rodriguez remembers when she realized that her life in the United States was not guaranteed. It was the same time she decided she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others.
“My father got arrested in 2013 when I was 13,” she said. “We were on our way to get some groceries, and at that time, we didn’t have any status in the U.S. The police pulled over our vehicle with my whole family in it and asked for my dad’s license straight away.”
Her dad didn’t have one.
“She (the officer) told him … to step out of the vehicle, and aggressively arrested him,” Rodriguez said. “When that happened, I realized that my family could be taken apart at any time.”
The family was able to bail their father out that night, but the incident left a lasting impression, she said.
“I was so scared I wouldn’t see him again,” she said.
Later as a student at Parkview High School in Gwinnett County, Rodriguez realized she wasn’t able to get a driver’s license because of her immigration status. Both events have sparked her interest in immigration rights and politics, she said.
Rodriguez, who attends the Dunwoody Campus, has distinguished herself in her classes, presenting an award-winning paper “Comparative Nationalism — the U.S. and Germany” at Georgia State’s Honors Council Conference and at the Georgia Political Science Association Conference in Savannah. Outside of classes, she is a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR).
“GLAHR has a program called ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) Chasers, and we patrol communities that ICE was spotted in and pass out flyers to members of the communities that inform them of their constitutional rights,” she said. “It’s amazing to be involved in something that has given so many people hope and love.”
Rodriguez — and her parents — now have valid visas and are awaiting permanent U.S. residency status.
“We are so happy,” she said.
Until she receives permanent residency status, Rodriguez pays out-of-state tuition to attend Perimeter College. She plans to graduate this summer.
The Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship would allow her more financial flexibility to afford a four-year university.
“I would love to go to Agnes Scott College to study psychology if I get the scholarship,” she said. “If I don’t get the scholarship, I plan to go to Georgia State University downtown, and after that, I want to go law school.”
There is no doubt she’ll succeed wherever she goes, notes Neeley Gossett, Honors coordinator on the Dunwoody Campus.
“Vanessa has proven her ability to succeed in college by flourishing in the Honors College at Perimeter College. said Gossett. “Because of her intellect, creativity, resilience, compassion and curiosity, I do not doubt that she will thrive at any four-year university she chooses.”