Hispanic-Serving Institution Advisor to the Provost Claudia Rodas speaks at the symposium, Encuentro NAU. Hispanic-Serving Institution Advisor to the Provost Claudia Rodas speaks at the symposium, Encuentro NAU.
Education & Service 

HSI advisor paves the way for future Latine Lumberjacks

alumna<br /> TYPE: undergraduate or graduate student; faculty; staff; alumni College of Education Hispanic Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Latine North Valley Online and Innovative Educational Initiatives (OIEI) Statewide
Hispanic-Serving Institution Advisor to the Provost Claudia Rodas speaks at the symposium, Encuentro NAU.

Claudia Rodas has two official titles: Hispanic-Serving Institution Advisor to the Provost and Associate Clinical Professor in the College of Education.

She also holds a third, unofficial, but equally important title: first-generation professional. It’s one that she worked hard to earn and is proud to claim.

Her story begins in Guatemala, where she was born. When she was a young child, her family moved to the United States, and she learned English and navigated the Phoenix school system. When graduation approached, like all seniors, she thought about what comes next and went looking for guidance.

“I didn’t really know anything about higher education,” she says. “I went to my advisor, and I said, ‘Hey, what’s after this? I would like to become a doctor.’ He looked at me, and he said, ‘Don’t even bother. I mean, Mexican girls just stay home and have babies.’”

The casual, callous racism stunned her. “I was completely discouraged. I just didn’t know what to do.”

She had to figure it out on her own with the support of her family. That summer, she learned about community college and enrolled. There she found a mentor teacher who encouraged her to attend a university and earn her bachelor’s degree in education.

While Rodas was passionate about her subject and proud to be getting a degree, something wasn’t quite right. “I felt really out of place in that institution. I felt like I didn’t belong. And I started thinking about equity and the lack of diversity on the campus.”

Those feelings from her days as an undergraduate would go on to inspire much of her work as a first-generation professional.

Thriving in the College of Education

Her degree opened a career path in education—first as an elementary school teacher, then middle, and finally as a high school science teacher in the Yuma area. She loved it, and wanted to do more. An NAU alum coworker recommended the MEd program, and she applied.

Rodas thrived in the College of Education, earning a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction along with two master’s degrees—Educational Technology and Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Community College/Higher Education. She did all of it as a statewide student.

Now she teaches at NAU’s North Valley campus in Phoenix and tries to be the mentor she never had. That desire to mentor led her to get involved with NAU’s efforts to embrace its Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) designation. “There are so many kids out there who need encouragement and support, and that led me to apply for the HSI position.”

Leading the way with NAU’s HSI initiatives

HSI status is a federal designation affirming that NAU’s enrollment is at least 25 percent Hispanic. As an HSI, NAU has access to grant money and other resources to build and reinforce support systems for Latine students, faculty, and staff. NAU reached the 25 percent threshold in 2021.

Criminology Professor Luis Fernandez joins Rodas in spearheading NAU’s HSI initiatives as an advisor to the provost. With the HSI designation, NAU has the opportunity to build a framework to better serve existing Hispanic students and pave the way for the Latine Lumberjacks of the future. Rodas is focusing her efforts on NAU’s 20-plus statewide locations around Arizona, beginning with visibility.

“There are still a lot of people who don’t know that we’re an HSI. And people don’t know what HSI means. We need to be able to inform our NAU community. Also, the community at large needs to understand that NAU is not only on the main campus, but we offer programs all over the state.”

Bringing NAU services statewide

She wants to create a system whereby all of the services and resources found on the Flagstaff campus are equally accessible to Lumberjacks across Arizona. Big things like in-person meetings with academic and financial aid advisors and little things like easy access to a JacksCard.

Rodas also has plans to involve families in the Lumberjack experience. “We are having our own family day at the North Valley campus,” she shares. “It’ll be our community open house, and we’re going to have tons of faculty and student opportunities there. For the first time, we are going to have a convocation here in the valley.”

She is also grateful for the work Online and Innovative Educational Initiatives is doing to support NAU’s statewide campuses. “For our HSI students, an important part of the vision is that we’re not only providing affordable access to our educational programs, but that we’re actually engaging our students and helping them graduate,” Rodas says. “So they make an impact in their communities.”

One of the initiatives created to support statewide students is establishing four regions within the state of Arizona—northern, southern, central, and southwest—and hiring directors to provide on-the-ground coordination and support for each region’s unique needs. Statewide students will also enjoy a dedicated advisory team to follow them from recruitment through graduation.

At the end of the day, Rodas hopes to share the title of first-generation professional with as many people as possible.

“I’m very passionate about working with underserved communities and non-traditional adult learners. I was fortunate to find people at NAU who mentored me and supported my goals; I have really found a home at NAU. And that’s what I want for our future and current students: to find the mentorship that is very much needed when you’re the first one trying to blaze new trails.”

Student photographers at the Grand Canyon.