Commencement Feature: First-Gen, Latinx and Military-Affiliated at UCCS | Hayley Rodriguez

Hayley (third from left) with Clyde and friends at the UCCS 2023 Bonfire

It’s not easy to balance college, an internship, club duties and being a military spouse, but first-generation student Hayley Rodriguez is thriving at it and making her family proud while she does.

“Being first-gen has ​been ​very ​bittersweet,” Hayley noted.​ “I ​am happy ​and ​proud ​to ​be ​the ​first ​one ​in ​my ​family ​to ​go ​to ​college, ​but ​at ​the ​same ​time, ​it’s hard ​because ​I ​don’t ​have ​somebody ​that ​I ​can ​call ​and ask what FAFSA is, or if I qualify for it, things like that. ​But the pros outweigh the cons and ​I’m ​very ​proud ​to ​be ​here ​and ​doing ​this ​for ​not ​only ​myself, ​but ​for ​my ​family ​as ​well.”

Hayley and her husband, John

Since transferring from Pueblo Community College to finish her accounting degree, Hayley has immersed herself in campus life and activities – especially the Latinx Student Union (LSU). LSU has allowed her to meet like-minded people going through similar experiences.

“Being in LSU has given me the chance to meet great people that I have a lot in common with,” she said. “Most are first generation, most of them come from that Latin background. They’re my people – and I feel so comfortable around my people.”

One of Hayley’s cherished experiences during school comes from her time in LSU as well.

“My favorite memory was the LSU event where we shared aspects of Mexican culture to visiting kindergarten students,” Hayley said. “We did little activities for the kids, like coloring sugar skulls and making papel picado banners.”

Similar to her first-gen experience, graduating from college and closing this chapter of her life comes with conflicting emotions.

“Graduating is bittersweet, for sure,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of new friends and met great people, so I am going to miss that aspect of it, but I’m also excited to see where life takes me next.”

Hayley at her Pueblo Community College graduation with her husband John, grandma (Elsie) and mom (Paula)

Though Hayley is still figuring out some of those next steps and what she wants for her career, she has her sights set on a government accounting job, possibly for the Army. She’s currently getting experience in through an internship at Northwestern Mutual, where she works as a college financial representative.

“I seek out new clients looking for help with financial planning,” Hayley explained. “From there, I work closely with a mentor analyzing the client’s financial situation and we go ahead and make recommendations based off of that and the client’s goals.”

“Government jobs are often very flexible with military and military-assignment orders, so working in government is a goal of mine, and the benefits and stability are great also,” she added.

That military flexibility is vital for Hayley, as her husband is active duty and deployed overseas. This adds another layer of challenge to her college experience with the time difference between them and limited opportunities to speak with each other.

“It’s hard because I don’t have my support system here,” Hayley said. “I can’t come home and share my day as easily, much less ask him to help me study.”

Working through this and other obstacles throughout her college career have allowed Hayley to gain plenty of perspective on balancing school, work and one’s personal life.

Minnie the chihuahua

“Prioritize self-care, and plan for your future,” she said. “Balancing academics and personal well-being is crucial and it’s so important to make sure to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and take breaks. Also, while it’s essential to focus on your current studies, it’s a good idea to think about your long-term goals – explore potential career paths, attend career fairs, and consider graduate school if it aligns with your aspirations.”

For Hayley, those breaks and self-care often come in the form of relaxing at home and spending time with Minnie, her three-pound chihuahua.

“I love being at home – watching TV, hanging out with my dog,” she said. “That’s my comfort.”

Alongside taking care of yourself and keeping future goals in mind, Hayley emphasized the benefit of embracing failure rather than fearing it.

“Don’t be afraid to fail,” she stressed. “It’s a natural part of the learning process. Use setbacks and failures as opportunities to learn, adapt, and grow. Don’t let failure be the reason you quit.”