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Life experience helps student engagement manager support Indigenous students

Eddie Rodriguez, student success coach for Oregon State University Ecampus, works with students from tribal communities.

Eddie Rodriguez knows what college is like as a member of a minority community. And as a first-generation college graduate, he knows what it takes to succeed.

OSU Ecampus’ Eddie Rodriguez helps students from tribal communities thrive online

By Jordan Friedman

Students can face a variety of challenges when entering or re-entering the higher education landscape, from finding the right academic support to time management. As a first-generation college student and graduate, Eddie Rodriguez faced these challenges and others firsthand.

Now, the sense of empathy and pride he feels as the student engagement program manager at Oregon State University Ecampus – including for students from Indigenous communities – inspires him to serve in this role every day. As a first-generation student and Mexican-American, he can relate to the various obstacles different communities encounter when navigating higher education.

Serving tribal communities

OSU is increasing its outreach to Indigenous communities in Oregon and across the country, enabling tribal members to earn college degrees with the support from culturally responsive faculty and staff, scholarships and Native community engagement. Learn more »

“Being able to communicate and work with somebody who has had some of those shared experiences can be helpful, though I understand every experience of every individual is different and unique,” Rodriguez says.

Rodriguez primarily serves as a point of contact for online students once they officially enroll. He is a student advocate, connecting distance learners with the resources they need and helping them understand how online education works.

“Working here with Ecampus really spoke to me, specifically when I saw that we were working on this tribal communities initiative, I knew I wanted to play a role in order to lend my own perspective, my lens, and also share my experiences,” he says.

Building important relationships

In recent years, Oregon State Ecampus has boosted its efforts to provide better support and increase access and awareness for Oregon tribe members and other Indigenous peoples. OSU officially launched its tribal communities initiative with the university’s Office of Institutional Diversity to help Native students pursue their educational goals, which included designating Rodriguez as one of their key sources of support.

Rodriguez says one of the most important efforts has been building relationships with tribal communities, members of which can turn to online education if they can’t or don’t wish to leave their homelands, jobs or families.

“If they have questions, they have specific, designated people they can communicate with,” Rodriguez says. “They can expect flexibility within their courses. They can expect an inclusive environment.”

Oregon State is more strongly communicating to Indigenous students that university staff is available to help whenever they need it, Rodriguez says. He adds that all Native students, including those learning online, are welcomed as part of the OSU community. Despite them completing coursework remotely, Rodriguez can connect them to student groups and clubs, including the university’s Kaku-Ixt Mana Ina Haws.

An advocate for distance students

In his role as student engagement program manager, Rodriguez helps online students resolve any issues they may face and offers advice to those who feel isolated from their classmates. His efforts enable students to become accustomed to the online format of learning, better manage their time, and bolster their overall success.

Rodriguez, who speaks fluent Spanish and English, previously worked in the school’s Office of Admissions, and his duties largely involved outreach and communication to Latino communities. He says he also attended different events for diverse populations – including tribal members – to guide them through the admissions process.

Being online is a different type of learning journey, Rodriguez says, but for some students – especially those who have jobs, children or elders – the ability to fit their studies around their life schedules can lead to greater success. For these students, maintaining lines of communication with a support network is key.

Rodriguez appreciates that he is able to watch online students thrive and grow.

“Being able to now serve in a role that is able to facilitate a lot of those processes is something that’s really fulfilling for me,” Rodriguez says.

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