World Changers in the Classroom
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” For Ferris Statewide Elementary Education student, Alicea Marie Rodriguez Cole, that is exactly what she intends to do.
The 51-year-old, Dowagiac native has always had a love for children, teaching, and changing the world, but her journey to becoming a teacher has been anything but traditional.
“Before I became a massage therapist, I went to the University of South Florida to become a teacher and it wasn’t the right timing for me, but I have never stopped thinking about it. I’m always volunteering at schools, I worked as a paraprofessional while doing massage. Every time I would move, I would somehow be involved with children. It was time to come back.”
Alicea spent 25 years traveling and working as a massage therapist before finding her way back to southwest Michigan and once again beginning her elementary education journey. It was this move that prompted Rodriguez Cole to find her way back into a classroom, this time as a student.
“I wanted to be a teacher and give back to my community. Someone told me that they thought Ferris had a program at [Southwestern Michigan College (SMC)] and I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that means,’ right? And so, I did a little investigation, and I was like ‘oh, you can use this as your base campus, but you’re taking Ferris classes to get your teaching degree.’ And that is exactly what I want to do. Specifically, because I want to be a teacher in Dowagiac, I want to show children what they can do in their own community because I am one of them.”
Between opportunity, proximity, and glowing recommendation, the Ferris Statewide Elementary Education program was no question for Alicea.
“You know that the statewide program is amazing. Going from SMC to Ferris and getting all of the help you need. Even though Ferris is a big university, it is small here and so you get a little more support,” she said.
Unlike her classmates, Alicea has not been a student for 30 years and even shared that years ago she went to school with her now classmates' parents. With that comes its own set of obstacles, but like everything, Alicea met those obstacles with a smile and a positive outlook.
“Being nontraditional is an advantage because I am not afraid to ask any questions. Everybody is here to help me. Technology I am not great with, but I can always ask for help from the younger students. And I encourage them in a way that maybe their friends of the same age cannot. Having the mix of ages really helps both sides.”
While she recognizes the differences between her and her peers, they all have one passion in common and come together to achieve one goal, and that is that they all love children and want to help them succeed.
“I want to help children. I don’t have children. And I feel like I have a great capacity for patience with children,” Alicea said. “I love the people they are and who they’ll be. And I am from here. I feel a very strong connection to the kids that are here. I grew up very similar to them, as far as being in a lower income.”
Alicea wants to inspire her future students that their dreams have no limits, and they can become whoever they want to be, regardless of where they come from. Beyond the students, she wants to instill greatness in the families by showing the parents that their ambitions and dreams do not have an expiration date.
“I have had visions of supporting a whole community by starting in the schools. I’m really fascinated by giving back. That whole idea of giving back to the children that are around you, the families, everybody. Just making it better,” Rodriguez Cole shared.
Beyond giving back to her community, Rodriguez Cole wants to focus on representation in the education system and show her community that they belong in her classroom.
“Half of my family is from Puerto Rico. Brown-skin people in the education system matter. Even though I am older, I think that still holds something. Families will see that name, children will see that name [Rodriguez], it’s a way of bringing diversity in and out because that name will go home,” she began. “I want everybody to see every style of person. There is a child there, there is a person that will say, ‘That’s the name? That’s what she looks like? And she’s working here? There is a place for me there.’”
When asked about her dream classroom, Alicea shared that she wants to help her community in whatever capacity they need or allow, and she doesn’t want to limit her ability to change the lives of children, but there is one age group that she does hold close to her heart.
“That age [10-12] is dear to me because at that age core memories are made, core beliefs start. You’re learning who you are, and I want to be there to help all the children of all diversities feel like they have a place in my classroom. I want my classroom to be a representation of the community,” Alicea said.
As Alicea embarks on this new journey herself, she shares advice for prospective students that might be wary of getting back into the classroom.
“You don’t have to start where you want to end. Be willing to advocate for yourself and recognize what you want. Find a way to get to where you want to be and figure out what is important for you,” she said.
Through her contagious smile, she shared that, above all else, she is ready for this journey.
“I’m fully aware that it is going to be hard, and I welcome it.”