Sophia Rodriguez

Growing up, Sophia Rodriguez experienced a clash of Peruvian-Mexican cultures, traditional values, and food in her home.

This prepared her to confront uncomfortable health and social justice issues.

Now Rodriguez is pushing for Latino health as a master’s-degree student in health promotion and behavioral science at San Diego State University, where she also works as part of a research team to boost colorectal cancer screening.

Rodriguez also has coordinated programs for disadvantaged pre-med and pre-health students with the University of California, Riverside. One of the programs involved health coaches stationed at Riverside County clinics that focused on lifestyle modifications for patients with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

To further her experience and education, Rodriguez applied for the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program.

The Éxito! program, led by Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez at UT Health San Antonio with support from the National Cancer Institute, recruits 25 master’s-level students and professionals each year for a five-day summer institute, optional internships, and ongoing networking and support to promote doctoral degrees and careers in Latino cancer. A recent study found significant increases in summer institute participants’ confidence to apply to a doctoral program and academic self-efficacy.

Rodriguez said Éxito! gave her a new way to “celebrate the Latinx in you.”

“The [Éxito!] program was empowering and allowed us to share our journey. Some of us had external or internal barriers and others had both. To see we all ended up in the same space wanting the same common goal was liberating,” Rodriguez said. “My future colleagues and I felt heard, validated and I felt finally understood. There is no organized space for Latinx communities in higher education so Éxito! built that door and created one for us. I will be forever grateful and am deeply humbled by this experience. Thank you for fulfilling a part of me I had no idea I was indirectly suppressing.”

“[Éxito!] has changed my career path trajectory and answered all my questions and hesitations regarding a PhD program,” Rodriguez said. “With all the tools and resources, we have been equipped with, it is impossible to not want to pursue your doctoral degree.”