Small classes, dedicated profs help student achieve education goals

May 15, 2018 | Katherine Adams

Small classes, dedicated profs help student achieve education goals

When Juana Rodriguez walks across the stage on May 20 to receive her bachelor of science in legal studies from University of Houston-Clear Lake, it will be a major step toward her ultimate lifelong goal of obtaining her law degree. But she has much more to celebrate than just her college graduation.

“I’ve just gotten a wonderful new job in a field I’ve always wanted to be in,” Rodriguez said. “Till now, I’ve been working for various companies in the payroll department. Now I’m going to be working in human resources at a company in the oil and gas industry in Houston, which is what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s my first real human resources position, and this is what I’ll be doing as I work toward my next goal, which finishing law school with a focus in employment law.”

Rodriguez said her time at UH-Clear Lake has been “phenomenal.” There are many reasons, she said, why UHCL was the best place for her to complete her education. “I transferred in from San Jacinto Community College and one of the greatest benefits for me was the student to professor ratio,” she said. “The class sizes allowed me to bond with my professors and it really brought me so much confidence. There are so many that really invested in me and in my success. It brought me out of my shell and made me think, ‘I got this!’”

Rodriguez named two professors in particular who were most influential during the last two years. “(Professor of Legal Studies and Management) Alix Valenti had very high standards when it came to the quality of the final work product, but I found it very useful,” she said. “She gave me that sense of full accountability for my product. She was tough, but in a way that really helped me.”

As was the case with most of the UHCL community, Rodriguez’s fall 2017 semester got off to a difficult start due to Hurricane Harvey. “We all started a week late, but I was even later because my car flooded,” she said. “I reached out to Dr. Valenti because I was already behind. She was available through email and phone. It took me a long time to catch up because I took four classes fall semester, but she worked with me.”

Valenti said that like most of her students, Rodriguez had been affected by Harvey. Just getting the textbooks and arriving to class had been a struggle. “But Juana was still able to surmount those difficulties and complete all the assignments for both the courses she was taking from me that semester,” Valenti said. “She even got the second highest grade on the Legal Concepts for Human Resources midterm.”

Rodriguez said that Assistant Professor of Legal Studies Jonathan Everhart introduced her to the law-school setting that is her career objective. “He pushed me to get prepared for that career,” she said. He really helped me recognize my potential.”

Everhart said that Rodriguez’s drive and persistence to overcome the obstacles she has faced along her journey toward completing her education were remarkable. “I am a professor because I want to inspire students to achieve their goals,” Everhart said. “I am proud of her success thus far and look forward to her achievements as an attorney. Her journey will continue to be an inspiration to those around her, especially her daughter.”

As a first-generation college student and single mom, Rodriguez said that she had many questions about getting her education, but most of them were easily answered through the university’s E-Services portal. “I got quite a few scholarships and I’m graduating debt free,” she said. “I am so grateful for all the donors who make those scholarships possible. That connection I had with University Advancement and different departments on campus really came together to get me where I am now: graduating.”

She said she had the opportunity to meet one of the donors in person. “It was overwhelming for me,” she said. “Because of them, I was able to get the job I wanted.”

Rodriguez said she will begin her new job in human resources and begin preparing for the LSAT exam for law school. “I will apply to law schools here in Houston, and I feel I am ready to take it all on because of the education I received here at UHCL,” she said.

Visit for more information about UHCL’s Legal Studies program.