By Elisabeth Costanzo Stewart

Meet Venessa Rodriguez – Director of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)

Photo Credit: Matt Ebbers

What drives you professionally and personally? “I think that it’s important to explain that I am the product of an HEOP program. Thanks to the HEOP program at Colgate University, I was given access and the opportunity to attend and graduate from Colgate, which I otherwise would not have been afforded. 

As a result of that experience, I decided a long time ago to commit to being as much of a change agent as possible. That’s why I gravitated toward working with EOP programs, eventually becoming the Director of the EOP program at SUNY Broome. Through my role, I get to make an impact with this community of students. I am driven by my students and by the hope that they will successfully graduate from SUNY Broome and will be able to find economic stability in the future. I know that if they do, our students will, in turn, give back to their communities, which creates a huge, positive ripple effect. 

Personally, my main motivators are my three children – Brenden, Nadalyn, and Rian. They are my world! I want to make this world a better place for them. It’s so important to me that I am not just a person who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk because my kids are watching. I hope that I can raise them to be change agents as well, in whatever capacity brings them joy.”

What can we do to encourage and support fellow women as they pursue their education and careers? “It is really important to make space for women, especially in leadership positions. Then, as we rise into those leadership positions, we need to intentionally pass the torch to the women who are up and coming. It’s critical that we don’t feel threatened by those women but instead see their power and encourage them to take on these roles. 

Society-wise, a lot of work needs to be done to ensure that women are successful, starting with providing access and opportunities to women. We must be mindful of representation so that all women have opportunities.”

Who is a public figure (either historical or present day) that has inspired you? What were/are her contributions and achievements?There are a whole lot of women historically that I can point to that are inspiring. But I also think we are in a unique space and time, and maybe even a scary space and time, where there seems to be an intentional effort by some folks to erase history or opt not to shine a light on inconvenient truths about our  history. 

That said, I am amazed by women like journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. She is so brave to be doing the work that she does. I also think that filmmaker Ava DuVernay is so inspiring. Women like Ava and Nikole use their incredible superpowers to highlight stories and history that some folks intentionally opt not to tell or even erase at great personal risk. I appreciate their bravery and their example.”

What does it mean to you to be celebrated as a remarkable woman? “I’m truly humbled. I’m sure that this is the case for many offices across campus, but sometimes, it feels like the work that we are doing goes unseen, and we hope that our work is making an impact. While I never look for recognition, I do always hope that I am making a difference. So, being recognized for that work is something that I am really grateful for.”

Name another remarkable woman of SUNY Broome who inspires you. “There are too many to name! I have worked at SUNY Broome for ten years, and I didn’t even realize that it had been ten years until I received a card from Dr. Hawkins, haha! As I think back to my history on this campus, I can say that I have had the honor of working alongside some really incredible women. The late, great Deb Hibbard comes to mind. I miss her. She was a good friend, and she had such an amazing impact. 

When I first came to SUNY Broome, I jumped on the opportunity to be part of the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, and I was the co-chair along with Scott A. Corley. Deb was on our team and was one of those women who was just right there, ready to do her part. If we needed anything, Deb was on it. She did amazing work and was so powerful, strong, and hysterically funny. I really miss her laugh.

I also want to mention my supervisor, Dr. Carol Ross-Scott. She is a fantastic mentor, and I really appreciate her example in my life. 

In honor of my earlier example of passing the torch, I want to highlight a young woman who works in my office, who is equally remarkable – Briana Alford! Briana is so wonderful with our students and has such an inspiring story. I hope that the campus will get to know her and all of the amazing things that she has done and will do.

I’d also like to give a shoutout to some of the women who raised me. My mom died when I was twenty-two, but she was an awesome, strong mother, and I am very proud to have been her daughter. I am one of those rare but fortunate people to have been “mothered” by more than one woman. My best friend’s mom, “Momma Williams,” was an amazing, resilient woman who was there for me during my early, formative years after my mother passed away. I also have a wonderful mother-in-law, who is another great example of a strong woman and a good human being!”


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