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Patricia describes how her experiences led her to pursuing an ocean engineering degree. | Video: Texas A&M Engineering

Born in San Diego, California, but raised in San Antonio, Texas, Patricia (Itzel) Rodriguez has always tackled each challenge in her life head on.

“Going to Texas was a big move for my family since my father was a pilot in the Marine Corps and leaving California meant he had to give up flying,” Rodriguez said. “We moved because my health condition had gotten too out of hand to be traveling between the two cities every six months and my surgeon practiced in San Antonio.”

As a first-generation American, she was taught to speak Spanish from the moment she said her first word. However, when she entered school she was greeted with yet another obstacle.

“When I entered kindergarten I had the biggest shock in my life when everyone spoke a different language than I did, but I adapted and picked up the English language in a month,” Rodriguez said.

Honored as this year’s distinguished student in the Department of Ocean Engineering, she originally had her heart set on studying mechanical engineering when she first stepped foot on campus. That all changed when she met Lisa Bratton through a mentoring program in the College of Engineering during her freshman year.

“I was assigned a mentor who just so happened to be an ocean engineering student,” Rodriguez said. “Lisa was one of my mentors and it was through her that I learned that there was such a thing as ocean engineering.”

Patricia Rodriguez stands under trees on a sunny day wearing a blue Ocean Engineering shirt.
Patricia Rodriguez | Image: Texas A&M Engineering

Water makes up 70% of the earth and many questions still remain about the ocean environment and processes.

“After major hurricanes like Katrina and Harvey, we have been at the mercy of the seas and will continue to be until we figure out how to work with the natural world,” Rodriguez said. “This natural world is what makes ocean engineering so interesting to me since it’s one of the few engineering majors that can take you away from the comfort of an office chair and put you in the environment you are studying.”

“The sea is man’s last frontier," she said. "We’ve discovered more about the surface of the moon than the ocean.”

Drawn to the small-town nature of the department, she learned more about the department while meeting other current students, professors and advisors.

“We’re small, it’s true, but it’s one of the gems of this major,” she said. “When an organization like this is small you can sense the closeness of everyone whether they be a professor or student. There’s no competition here and we all get to know our professors and are able to learn a lot from them inside and outside of the classroom, which in turn highlights the wisdom they impart on the younger generation.”

While on the surface Rodriguez may seem determined and strong-willed, it’s her experiences that have shaped her into the resilient person she is today.

“I was born with a lot of medical problems that have left me physically disabled, but because of that part of my life I’ve had to learn to adapt to my environment,” she said. “Through it all, I was involved in a lot of physical activities that I had to make into my own.”

Today, she is working toward earning her scuba diving certification but can never truly shut out everything she has overcome to get to this point.

“I know how blessed I am compared to the vast majority of the people who have suffered what I’ve been through, and I can never truly forget what it was like living in a hospital for a lot of my childhood,” she said. “I’ve had 29 surgeries and I’m done with that chapter in my life for now. The fact that I can live and breathe on my own without the help of a chair or an oxygen tank is enough of an accomplishment for me. I thank God every day for my mind; for a strong mind can get you through even the hardest challenges but also to remind oneself that anything is possible with a bit of craftiness and patience.”