17:23 PM

Erika Rodriguez: Another fantastic Rising Stars success story

Rising Stars student Erika RodriguezThe University of Saint Thomas-Houston’s remarkable Rising Stars Internship Program has produced yet another success story. This one features multiple star players. First, Rising Stars student Erika Rodriguez turned her three-year internship at Casa de Esperanza into a full-time position at the well-respected nonprofit. And there is Dan Molinaro, the generous UST Board member who sponsored the internship that led to the career opportunity.

Setting the stage for this story…

Erika Rodriguez, a Rising Star

Erika Rodriguez is a UST senior scheduled to graduate with a BBA/MBA in May. That undergraduate and graduate degree achievement is a dream come true for this first-generation college student, who immigrated from Mexico City with her family at the age of two. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father drove a truck. Neither could prepare her for the college experience, so the odds of success were against her — even though her grades at UST were good.

“When I first got to UST, I was very overwhelmed,” Rodriguez recalled. “I would do well in classes and organizations, but I felt a lot of imposter syndrome. Am I fitting in? Am I faking it? I didn’t even know what a minor was. And I wasn’t confident in my skills.”

Fortunately for Rodriguez, she “stumbled upon” the Rising Stars program early in her first year when the UST Insights Mentoring Program assigned her a mentor named Dan Garcia. As the director of Rising Stars, Garcia knew how to help her.

Rodriguez recalled, “I told him that I was anxious because my peers seemed to know more about all the aspects of college, including what a minor was and how to succeed in an interview process. That’s when he told me about Rising Stars and how it’s designed to help first-generation college students like me to succeed.”

She applied and got in.

How Rising Stars Works

The phenomenally successful program works by providing lower-income students with foundational tools and skills to achieve in their personal, academic and professional lives. On top of that, Rising Stars students receive a high-value internship to prepare them for the professional world. Generous corporate sponsors or donors make this incredible program possible.

In Rodriguez’s case, that generous supporter is UST Board Member Dan Molinaro, who also serves on the board for Casa de Esperanza. The sponsorship enabled him to help two nonprofits he loves.

For Rodriguez, the internship at Casa de Esperanza, a respected nonprofit organization, aligns with her values. She says Casa works to house foster children and support, reunify and strengthen the families when possible. Working there, she gained new confidence.

She said, “I applied for a Google Ads grant which now provides a monthly stipend to Casa's marketing efforts to recruit new foster parents and spread the word of our mission.”

Erika RodriguezDoes Rising Stars get results?

“I can say I’m way more bold and confident in my skills and what I’ve accomplished so far,” Rodriguez beamed. “A completely different person, honestly.”

Casa was so pleased with the young digital marketer’s growth and results that they hired her full-time as their communication coordinator.

But Wait, There’s More

Dan Molinaro added, "As I reflect on the great work at Casa where they strive to break the cycle of child neglect, and the wonderful Rising Stars program at UST, which enables first-generation college students the opportunity to earn a degree while developing professional skills, it is a perfect match. My wife Barbara and I are extremely proud of Erika’s fantastic contributions to Casa these past three years, and everyone at Casa is very excited to welcome her to their team permanently.”

Director of Corporate Relations Mallory Peterson said, “UST’s Rising Stars Internship Program has grown by leaps and bounds since it began in 2019 with half a dozen students. Currently, the program serves nearly 240 students, and we partner with close to 80 community and corporate sponsors.”

For more information on the UST Rising Stars program, please contact Dan Garcia, Rising Stars Director at Garciads@stthom.edu