Senior Krystal Blas Rodriguez was part of the Dougherty Family College’s first graduating class in 2019. Now she’s getting ready to celebrate earning a bachelor’s degree from St. Thomas. A political science major, Rodriguez is currently interning with Citizens League, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that empowers people to engage in civic life and the policy process.

“My parents both migrated from Mexico, and I have seen firsthand the problems they and other family members have encountered,” Rodriguez said. “As I grew older, I realized that there are a lot of systemic issues and it’s a big problem. That pushed me to want to be a part of something like public policy or maybe eventually go to law school in order to help people.”

As a first-generation college student, Rodriguez always knew that she wanted to pursue higher education, but the financial burden of a four-year degree made her hesitate. When Rodriguez heard about Dougherty Family College (DFC) and the two-year associate degree she could earn, she knew it would be a great fit and help her prepare for an advanced degree.

It was also important to her to stay close to Richfield, where she grew up the oldest of three siblings.

“I am very family-oriented, that’s just who I am,” Rodriguez said. “Their support means everything to me.”

We sat down with Rodriguez to discuss everything from her time at DFC to her favorite St. Thomas memory. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

What have you learned about yourself during your time at St. Thomas?

I’ve learned that sometimes I need to take time to analyze things and take a step back. At first, I didn’t realize how hard school was going to be. I had taken college classes while I was in high school, so I knew a bit about what the workload was like, but I didn’t realize how much I had to really organize myself. I had to step up my time management. At the beginning of college, I would wait until the last minute to write papers and now I plan things out. I always have a planner with me. At the same time, I realized sometimes I just needed to step away because we all deserve a break.

Is there a specific person that has helped you along your journey?

I don’t think there is just one specific person because my family has been there, mostly my parents. They have been pushing me all along. My mom has seen me cry several times when school got stressful. She’s always pushed me to keep going. My dad has done the same.

My family, my boyfriend and my siblings have all helped me. They have kept me together and pushed me all the way to the end.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at St. Thomas?

When I got my associate degree from DFC. The university had a big celebration for us. That showed that they recognized that we got our two-year degree and how really valuable that is.

What did DFC mean to you?

I felt really welcome there. There are a couple of professors who stuck with me along with what I learned in their classes, the way they taught and the way they talked to their students. They trusted you and really got to know you, which I didn’t have in high school. Some of the professors at DFC, even if I haven’t talked to them in a while, if I encountered them somewhere they would be like friends now. They have always said, “You need to create your own space and even if you’re in a space where you feel like you don’t belong, you do belong there.” That has helped me throughout the last two years of my educational career. Moving to a four-year campus, while there are a lot more people, there aren’t a lot of people who look like me, so sometimes I need to create my own space and just tell myself that I belong.

What is your favorite place on campus?

The Anderson Student Center because they have food. I love to eat and drink a lot of coffee or tea and that is where I’d meet my friends. We would just sit there and do homework before heading to class and I used to see a lot of DFC students there. With COVID, I don’t go there as often as I used to.

What is something that always makes you smile?

My family first and foremost. But I would also say looking back at myself and reflecting on all the hard work I’ve done. I’ve been thinking about that lately as we get closer to graduation. I can’t believe that I’ve done four years already – it’s going by too fast. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me – hopefully, it’s all good things! Obviously, some things have been hard, but I can’t help but smile when thinking about my family watching me walk across that stage at graduation. I’m a first-generation college student and it means a whole lot.

What is your favorite way to unwind?

Before COVID I would say my favorite way to unwind was hanging out with my friends. I loved going to lunch and catching up with them. I also enjoy cleaning my room! It brings me peace knowing everything is organized.

What famous person – dead or alive – would you like to meet and why?

A person I would like to meet would be Selena, the Texas musician [who died in 1995]. She has been an inspiration to all Hispanic/Latinx women and men. I used to hear my mom play her music growing up and now I listen to her all the time. I would have loved to have meet her. She seemed so caring and genuine.

If your life had a soundtrack, what would it be?

I love music and this is a really hard question for me! I would say, at the moment, I am super into R&B – old school and new. I can always listen to Mariah Carey, Aaliyah, H.E.R, Bryson Tiller, SZA.

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