As the academic year comes to a close, members of the Class of 2023 prepare for graduation, including Enrique Ernesto Rodriguez, a 2023 recipient of the Tisch Presidential Award for Civic Life. Each year, the award recognizes Tufts undergraduate and graduate students who have made notable contributions to community service and leadership.
“I’d just like to thank everyone who made my experience the experience that I had, all my friends and the community that I’ve built. … They’re the people who got me to where I am today and who gave me the ability to do all these great things on campus and for the community,” Rodriguez said. “Thank you to everyone who supported me and believed in me.”
Growing up in Lake Worth, Fla., Rodriguez had been interested in pursuing a premedical track, but after learning about biomedical engineering in high school, they were drawn to the field.
“In my high school biology class, we were watching some videos where a scientist … was growing an ear on a mouse, and I was like, ‘Oh, that was really cool,’ so I asked my teacher what it was and he was just telling me that it was biomedical engineering or tissue engineering, so that piqued my interest,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez knew they wanted to go to college in Boston after reading about medical work conducted at hospitals in Massachusetts. While visiting the campus on Jumbo Days, Rodriguez liked both Tufts’ size and the people, but they were particularly impressed by the comprehensive support system that Tufts offered them.
“I really liked the support system that BEST … [or] Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts … provided me … because of my background as a first-generation student. I felt like having that extra support system in place was really attractive to me,” Rodriguez said. “I felt supported the most by Tufts, and it felt like a great fit for me.”
Luckily, Rodriguez’s impression of Tufts was reflective of their overall experience. Rodriguez felt they received the most support from the Division of Student Diversity and Inclusion identity centers on campus.
“I felt like I was able to build community, and if I didn’t see a community that I identified with or felt needed to be here, I felt like there was at least a way for me to make that community or advocate for that community to be made or heard,” Rodriguez said. “I felt supported and I felt like Tufts was what I expected it to be for the most part.”
Over the course of their time at Tufts studying biomedical engineering, Rodriguez has participated in an abundance of research and lab experiences, including their capstone project of building a 3D model of the brain to track electrical signals of neurons.
“It’s supposed to help with understanding neuronal connections and in the future potentially diseases like neurodegenerative diseases,” Rodriguez said. “But for now, it is to address a gap in knowledge of tracking electrical signaling in the brain.”
Outside of academics, Rodriguez has been an active community member both at Tufts and within the Greater Boston area. Rodriguez has mentored students in the BEST prematriculation program to help students transition into their undergraduate education and has tutored participants in physics. Through Tufts’ STEM Ambassadors program, Rodriguez has taught science to students in Boston public high schools.
“We go into public high schools in the greater Boston area and we teach these students specific concepts related to STEM that aren’t traditionally taught in a high school classroom,” Rodriguez said. “For example, I was teaching about rare diseases and why it’s important to research rare diseases and about the importance of representation in STEM.”
Rodriguez has had a lot of teaching experience throughout their experience at Tufts. In addition to being a physics learning assistant, Rodriguez has been involved in the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts. Rodriguez’s work through this center included teaching robotics and computer science to kids at a local YMCA, participating in discussions on anti-racist and justice-centered curriculums in engineering education and leading discussions about diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the context of computer and data science. Rodriguez also conducted research at the Tufts Medical School’s Shen Lab and served as a mentor to high school students from Boston through the Center for Science Education.
“I mentored them through this program called “Mini [Med] School,” and I helped to design curriculum … and help [high school students] figure out financial aid and what it takes to apply to college,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez was also the treasurer of the Tufts Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program, a Tufts Community Union senator on the Allocations Board and a Blackout Step Team member.
In their time as a highly involved student and community member, Rodriguez has received the BEST Scholar, 2022 Tufts DEIJ Service Award, Hispanic Scholarship Fund and 2023 Tufts Senior Award.
Rodriguez said the Tisch Presidential Award for Civic Life suited their personality and service-related experiences at Tufts well.
“I feel like I am a very community-oriented person, and everything I’ve done has been to build community or uplift or shed light on a community … whether it was advocating for a community or just building a community,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is looking forward to graduating after four years of hard work. Rodriguez acknowledges that while COVID-19 consumed much of their college experience, they value the unique experiences that arose because of the pandemic.
“While I am upset that it feels like parts of my college experience were removed, not every college experience is going to be the same.” Rodriguez said. “Through [the COVID-19 pandemic] … I still found ways to get involved and advocate for community and help my peers and pursue my interests, it just wasn’t the … most ideal way.”
Rodriguez is looking forward to continuing to pursue their passions after graduation. Rodriguez hopes to work as a research assistant in Boston with the plan of attending school in the future to either teach biomedical engineering or become a doctor.
“[My] end goal is to ultimately help people as much as I can, whether it’s through education or through healthcare,” Rodriguez said.
Reflecting on their time at Tufts, Rodriguez stresses the importance of incoming Tufts students taking advantage of the available resources and support systems on campus when adjusting to college life. Rodriguez feels it is crucial to ask for help when necessary, especially for first-generation and minority students.
“Annoy the people that say they will help you … and remember that everyone’s story is different,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone is starting from different places, [such as] how some people had the opportunity to take a lot of AP classes. … Just because you feel like you are behind does not mean that you are actually behind. Just know that you belong here and that you were chosen for a reason.”