Caldwell University is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. Throughout the month, we will highlight some of the many Hispanic members of our community who positively influence our university and society.
Earlier this year Caldwell University was formally recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education, reflecting the growth in enrollment of Hispanic students at the university and the welcoming environment Caldwell has created for the students.
Jeremy Colon ’23
Jeremy Colon fell in love with Caldwell University the first time he visited the campus. His head football coach at Union City High School told him about the university and that there was a chance to play sprint football. Colon seized the opportunity.
From the time he was young Colon knew that football could be an avenue for his education and future dreams. The game has taught him quite a bit, like “Every failure is a lesson learned,” he said. “Anytime I fail I try to make myself better and just move on from it,” said Colon, who is majoring in communication and media studies. That attitude of looking at what can be learned from challenges extends to the pandemic, which has taught him that you “Don’t take anything for granted. You have to adapt and move on.”
Attention is what makes Caldwell special, said Colon, the attention students receive from the staff, faculty members, coaches and other students.
Colon grew up in Union City, the son of a couple from the Dominican Republic. His culture is important to him, and he enjoys Hispanic Heritage Month with family, “good bonding time” and good food, like his favorite dish of mangu, salami and fried cheese.
Colon is the first in his family to go to college, and his goals are to graduate, “make my family proud and get a stable job.”
His sprint football coach, James Kelly, said Colon’s has the drive to reach those goals. “His energy and enthusiasm to strive for perfection are admired by our staff and student body in our learning community.” Colon leads by example and “epitomizes the ability to meet challenges the student-athlete faces with a rigorous curriculum and athletic competition,” said Kelly. “Jeremy Colon will leave our campus leaving his standard to overcome adversity for future Cougars to follow.”
Viviana Zeballos ’22
Viviana Zeballos is grateful that she grew up in a bilingual household. Being fluent in Spanish has given her opportunities to assist others. “You feel great when you can give a helping hand,” said Zeballos, who comes from a close-knit family with a Bolivian heritage. She has traveled to the South American country to visit her grandmother, and that has given her a broader world view. “I love learning about people’s cultures.”
This fall semester Zeballos is learning remotely at Caldwell University. Even before the pandemic hit, it was a format she preferred. “I work better by myself.” A marketing major, she picked up a second major, psychology. “It will help me understand people better for business,” she said.
At a recent meeting of the university’s Academic Affairs Committee, Zeballos shared her preference for remote learning. “It was great to be able to give our opinions,” the new committee member said. One of the benefits of online learning at Caldwell is that faculty have small classes and that gives them the opportunity to reach out to the students taking “the first step” in communications, said Zeballos. Then students are not afraid to speak up and ask for help, she explained. Although virtual learning is her preferred format, she is still connected. “I have a lot of activities that give me people interaction.”
One of those activities is the Educational Opportunity Fund program, which she appreciates for the opportunities to make connections with people and as a support system. “Knowing I can go to the office for help with anything is a resource I am so thankful for.” She is a member of the sorority Lambda Tau Mega and of the cross-country and track teams, which she joined during her sophomore year. With the COVID restrictions, she is grateful that her coach is keeping in contact with team members. “I run on my own and the coach sends out workouts, so it is great.” Running helps her manage stress and provides a sense of accomplishment. “You really have to count on yourself.” It is a “mental sport,” but pushing through despite fatigue and finishing a race is a great feeling. Just as she strives to do in her academic pursuits, “You really give it your all.”
Emily Gomez Rodriguez ’22
September is Emily Gomez Rodriguez’s favorite month. It is Hispanic Heritage Month and her birthday month. “I would not be the person I am today if it were not for my culture. I embrace and love my culture,” said the health sciences major, who has Colombian and Honduran heritage.
Caldwell’s diversity is one of the things Rodriguez appreciates about her university, and she encourages her peers to learn about their heritages: “Love your roots.”
Rodriguez grew up in Rahway and Elizabeth, New Jersey. She speaks Spanish fluently and is comfortable with Portuguese. Her mother is a middle school Spanish teacher. “I love that I can use different languages. I feel I have the power to express myself more.” She often uses her skills to translate for other people. The Latin she took in her freshman year of high school helps her with the Portuguese and with the Greek and Latin roots of words she is learning in her medical terminology class.
Rodriguez has always had an interest in medicine. Her father is a respiratory therapist. She learned how to do CPR when she was 8 years old because she wanted to learn “what people do in the movies.” She aspires to become a physician assistant in an underserved community. It is a career path she discovered during the lockdown after losing her grandfather and her aunt to COVID-19-related causes and learning the role PAs could play on the front lines of a disaster like a health care pandemic. “PAs get to improve and save the lives of others, and it is versatile and collaborative.”
A month after her family’s losses, Rodriguez applied to volunteer with her local emergency squad, and she has become a blood donor ambassador for the American Red Cross. She credits natural sciences professor Dr. Agnes Berki with inspiring her and educating her and other students about the virus. Early in the year when news about the coronavirus was breaking, Berki dedicated lectures to COVID-19 including information on proper mask-wearing and sanitizing. “It was a blessing,” said Rodriguez, who incorporated the information into her daily life and shared it with her family.
Rodriguez is studying remotely this semester, and Berki prepared her for that by helping students adapt to online learning during the lockdown. (This semester Berki is on sabbatical researching COVID-19 and infectious diseases.) “The support and guidance from last semester prepared me for this semester,” said Rodriguez.
Despite having had a challenging year, Rodriguez is grateful for being a part of the Caldwell University family and for a new academic year. “Caldwell has given me support, maturity, more intelligence, a sense of community, and caring.” She is also grateful to Dr. William Velhagen, associate dean of the School of Natural Sciences, for his advice.
As she ventures into her junior year, Rodriguez feels empowered by her experiences and the support she receives from her professors. “It [all] has taught me to keep on going no matter what.”