Chapter 02: Support from Teachers and Family Leads to a College Education

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Chapter 02: Support from Teachers and Family Leads to a College Education

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Dr. Rodriguez talks about her educational path leading up to medical school in this segment. She says that she was encouraged to study from elementary school, when she took an IQ test and scored very high. She recalls that she was asked if she had cheated on the test. Nevertheless, her parents were advised to encourage her to study. Dr. Rodriguez explains that her mother was concerned about her plans to leave their small town to go to college, though her father supported the idea. She says that coming from her background, going to college “was a miraculous thing.” She had little assistance applying to college, but explains that she was advised to apply for scholarships. She recalls going to San Antonio to meet with the selection panel for a scholarship. She was not awarded that scholarship, but one of the nuns on the panel arranged for a scholarship from Our Lady of the Lake College (BA conferred in 1975). Dr. Rodriguez explains that, for practical reasons, she majored in Spanish with the intention of teaching. However she did very well in the sciences and her advisor, Dr. Rigual, advised her to consider medical school. Dr. Rodriguez recalls the educational environment at Our Lady of the Lake College, including a research program that was available and gave her experience in research methods. She began to think about going to graduate school to do research

Identifier

RodriguezA_01_20150220_C02

Publication Date

2-20-2015

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, Research Medical Library, The University of Texas Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

Educational Path; Personal Background; Professional Path; Inspirations to Practice Science/Medicine; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Experiences Related to Gender, Race, Ethnicity

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. So tell me about your educational experience. When did you know that you were going to focus in the sciences, and perhaps even medicine?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, I didn’t know that I would focus on the sciences, really, until high school, and my exposure to chemistry and physics, and biology. For whatever reason, I just was drawn to those. And I was a very good student; I had always outstanding grades. And my teachers always encouraged—I mean, I do recall this even from very young in elementary school, I was encouraged to study. I really have no idea what my IQ is, but I know that we took some form of IQ test in elementary school, and that my parents were told that I should—that they should always encourage me to stay in school. I guess I did well compared to the rest of the students, would be my guess.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Yeah.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

But I do remember that. I also remember being asked had I cheated on the test. I mean, I am, I was, like, I don’t know, five or six years old. I had no concept of what cheating was. I guess now that I think about it retrospectively, I think, that was really unskillful! (laughter)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

But obviously they did [inaudible].

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yeah, to ask a young child, are you cheating on your IQ test? Are you serious?

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

How did that happen?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

How did that happen? (laughter)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s whacky! Well, obviously they believed you when you said, “No,” or looked dazed at the question.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yeah!

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

And your parents encouraged you, so that’s really—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

—really cool.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yeah, they were supportive.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Right, yeah. And I mean, that’s not always the case in families when they feel that their children may be having an experience that will separate them from family experience.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Correct.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, you know, honestly, my mother did not want me to go to college, whereas my father said he would support whatever I wanted to do.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

And so, I just said, “OK, good, I like father’s opinion.”

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, what was your mother’s reservation about that?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Oh, fear that, you know, going away, etc., separating from family like you said—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

—and so on.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Always having lived in a small town, and life is very sheltered, or relatively sheltered. There’s no such thing as a safe place on the planet entirely, but—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah, when you have a small—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Right.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Well good for dad, you know?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes. Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

For supporting you.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So tell me about your—that process of applying to college, and then, you know, that’s—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

That was really, I mean, again, thinking about it retrospectively, it was sort of a kind of miraculous thing. So I went to a very small high school.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

What’s the name of the high school?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

In Roma. Roma, Texas, Roma High School. And we had a counselor who did meet with each of us in the senior year, and encouraged us to apply to college. But sort of was the extent of the assistance we got. You know, we were told, here’s the registrar for UT [University of Texas], you know, we were given some information and then—but we were pretty much left on our own. And again, having had no exposure in my family ever to anyone going to college, I had no idea what that entailed.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Now, so the one thing that was helpful is, they advised me to apply for some scholarships. And one of them was from a small, private—or not so small, but a foundation called a Minnie Piper Foundation. And it provided for scholarships at any one of three, of the three Catholic schools in San Antonio at the time, the Incarnate Word, St. Mary’s and Our Lady of the Lake [College]. And one would go and interview with this panel of people for the scholarship. And that was the first time that I flew in an airplane. They provided travel, so I flew from the Valley to San Antonio in a small propeller airplane. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Did you have the turbulence?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Actually, no, it was a very pleasant experience.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Good.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes. (laughter) It was my first time being alone in a large city, San Antonio being relatively large to where I grew up. And meeting with this panel, you know, I’d never had had such an experience either, before. And needless to say I probably was shy, or perhaps not as fluent or verbally convincing as the other candidates, but I did not get that scholarship. Nonetheless, one of the nuns on the panel from Our Lady of the Lake apparently was impressed enough with me or my presentation that I got a separate offer from Our Lady of the Lake for a scholarship and financial assistance, if I attended Our Lady of the Lake. So it happened to be a small college, it happened to be Catholic, and it sort of was aligned with, more or less, the values of my family. So my parents that I could go. So that’s how I ended up—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow! And women supporting women, yay!

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

That’s how I ended up at Our Lady of the Lake. Which—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Of the Lake, yeah. Huh. So that must have been a really big deal, packing up and going away to college.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes, it was.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Well, tell me about how your education and perspective evolved when you got there.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, initially, you know, every student was assigned to a mentor, and every student is asked to declare—was asked to declare what their major would be, or what their primary area of interest would be. And despite my liking sciences, actually, I was just being pragmatic. I thought, oh, I’ll get a Spanish—I’ll get a major in Spanish, because I could read and write fluently in Spanish. And I’ll say that I’m going to be a teacher, because realistically, that did seem like a very good career at the time.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

And so that’s what I declared. So I was assigned to a mentor from the Department of Second Languages, Spanish—specifically, one of the Spanish teachers. They had French as well. But I was assigned to one of the faculty in the Spanish curriculum, Dr. Rigual. And so he started asking me some questions, just what do you like, what do you—you know. I said, well, I liked science, I liked this, I liked that. So I signed up for a full—I don’t know, the maximum number of hours I could take that first year. And I did very—in fact, I think I placed out of one of the basic sciences, and he was very impressed for that. And he said, well, you should consider being a science major, which was interesting, because he was supposed to be my Spanish mentor.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. Well, good for him—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

You know, for really looking at the student’s gift.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes. So in any event, I also did very well in my science curriculum at the end of the—so at the end of the year, when we went over my performance, he saw that I had done very well. He says, “You know, you really need to consider going into the sciences.” And from that—and even at the beginning, he said, “You need to consider going to medical school.”

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Wow!

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Which I really didn’t think that was a good idea; I thought I don’t have money. That’s really hard to get into medical school, from what I’ve heard. And it will be a long time before I will have a real job, that was the other thing I was concerned about, because I needed to have a job.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Sure.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

So, it really was not the first choice that I had in my mind as to what I was going to do with my life. But in any event, I declared then, I changed my major to chemistry, and then, and second major in biology, I believe. It was two sciences; chemistry and biology. So that’s what I devoted the rest of my focus on that, for the rest of my college education.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, how were you visualizing your career future at that point? You know, did you—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Oh, I thought I would be a teacher.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

OK.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Or, I would possibly, again, as I got towards my junior or senior year, my chemistry mentor, Sister Jane Ann [Slater], encouraged me to go to graduate school.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Mmmm [affirmative]. I mean, I was thinking, you know, I was just thinking about the time, the timeframe when you were in school. I mean, this is still the era when being a teacher was the nice profession for a woman.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

You know, so it was kind of—and you really—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, it was one of the optimum professions at the point.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Right. But it was very cool, actually, that Dr. Rigual, and then Sister Jane Ann were really thinking beyond that scope.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Correct. Yes.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

You know, not being limited by those more traditional or conventional ideas—

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Correct.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

—of what women might do.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Correct.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

So lucky you, and that’s very cool.

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Yes, it was very fortunate that it was an environment where people could really pay attention to the students, look at the, if you will, the gifts of the student, the talents of the student and encourage them to follow their talent, if you will.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Absolutely. So tell me about that process. Well, and where the research interest. You know, it was obviously going to assert itself really strongly. Was that something you had experience in college at all?

Alma Rodriguez, MD:

Well, again, this was another—because I was in the sciences, the college, and because the consortium of schools, of those Catholic schools, had a very high percentage of minority students. They received a grant at the time, and I’m not sure from which foundation. But they had received a grant from one of the national science foundations to encourage students to, first of all, go into the sciences, and then second, to learn about research, involvement in research. And so there were several small research projects that were available through the three colleges. And I applied to one of them, and I had been accepted to it, so I had an exposure of laboratory design, carrying out the project, analyzing data—or collecting data, analyzing data, and even presenting at a college level research symposium, which was very exciting, of course. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah.

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Chapter 02: Support from Teachers and Family Leads to a College Education

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