KOKOMO, Ind. — When she left Spain to enroll at Indiana University Kokomo, Andrea Méndez Rodriquez expected to go it alone, living far from her mother and brother.
Instead, she built a family of friends and supporters, and found her place as a campus leader. She currently serves as student body president, as she prepares to graduate in May.
“I never expected to be this successful,” she said. “I just thought I would get my degree and go back home. I’ve really created a community here that has offered me a lot of support. I’ve been able to hold onto that and succeed, both in my personal and professional life.”
After completing her degree in biochemistry, she plans to work for a few years and then continue to graduate school in pharmacy or something related to the medical field. She’s still deciding if she will continue to live in the United States or return to Europe.
Before IU Kokomo, Méndez Rodriquez spent a year attending Kokomo High School as an exchange student. Friends in Kokomo encouraged her to come back, but the COVID pandemic nearly derailed those plans. With national borders closed because of the pandemic, she started considering other plans.
“I didn’t think I would make it back to America, so I was going to join the Spanish military,” she said. “As soon as the borders opened, I decided to take a leap of faith and come back to the U.S.”
She’d kept in touch with a Kokomo friend, Hayden Turner (now her fiancé). He was the only person she knew on campus at first. Both were on the track team, and he introduced her to people who became her friends. Later, she joined the Student Government Association, serving as a senator for a year, followed by a term as vice-president before being elected president for her senior year.
Méndez Rodriquez is proud of the work SGA accomplished, noting that they essentially had to rebuild student life following the pandemic.
“We’ve accomplished a lot of things I wanted to,” she said. “Our new Dean of Students, Andréa Halpin, and I have worked together a lot to bring a good structure to SGA that can be carried forward in the future, to be manageable and easy.”
Over her three years in SGA, they’ve focused on promoting events, adding bulletin boards in nearly every campus building for flyers, and placing a suggestion box for students to easily give input on campus events and ideas.
She’s also worked with the equity ambassadors in the Multicultural Center, worked in the COVID testing center, and was an assistant in international student services.
“I love making all the international students feel as welcome as I felt when I arrived,” she said. “The staff here made it very welcoming to me, and I wanted to return that favor to other international students.”
In the classroom, Méndez Rodriquez had the opportunity to research with Kasem Kasem, professor of chemistry, who served as a mentor. As a former international student himself, he could understand many of her challenges, she shared.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Dr. Kasem,” she said. “We talk a lot about what I want to do with my degree. He’s helped me figure out my interests.”
The community she’s built around her has been key to her success.
“I really like being independent,” she said. “It’s one of the reasons I moved here, so I could figure out life by myself, but I miss my mother and my brother. I feel I’ve really lucked into a lot of good connections here on campus.”
Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.