There’s something about being the first, and when you’re the second oldest of five sisters, being the first of anything can be hard to come by. When it came to her education, Jessenia Rodriguez ’13 G’19 took that challenge head on. As a part of Bay Path’s inaugural doctoral class, Jessenia walked across the stage as the first of her class to be awarded a doctoral degree. She is also the first three-time graduate from Bay Path’s Occupational Therapy program, earning her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree from the university. And she is the first in her family to earn that coveted title of Dr. Rodriguez.
It may seem as though a career in occupational therapy was in her plans all along, but in high school Jessenia had her sights set on physical therapy. “I wanted to be a physical therapist. I knew I wanted to do therapy,” she said. “A Bay Path admissions officer came to my school and introduced me to the college, and more importantly introduced me to occupational therapy. I got into a bunch of schools, but she got me interested in occupational therapy. That made Bay Path my first choice.”
She’s been at Bay Path ever since. “Bay Path has been a part of my whole practical adult life,” Jessenia said. First arriving at Bay Path at eighteen years old, Jessenia found the Longmeadow campus close enough to her hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, but far enough to grow individually and to live independently.
Three months after graduating with her master’s degree, Jessenia found herself working full time. “Bay Path, from the beginning, from day one, was always career-centered and focused. Because of my internship, I was able to find employment quickly,” she said.
Two years later, the idea of going back to school for her doctorate began to cross her mind. She talked to her mom, by far Jessenia’s biggest supporter, and her mom encouraged it. That same day she received a postcard from Bay Path announcing their doctoral program. “Getting into OT, I only needed a master’s degree. I wanted to go back to school, but I wanted to go after I had professional experience and I knew specifically what I wanted to study,” she said. “In the future, I won’t be able to do what I do today, physically. Education is the way to go, and when I decided I wanted to become a professor of geriatrics, I knew I had to go back to school for my doctorate.”
Jessenia worked through the doctorate program while working as a geriatric occupational therapist full time. She credits her family, and in particular, her mother, for helping her to push through to achieve her dream. “In high school I always wanted to be at the top – not just for myself, but for other people. That’s the best way to help others,” Jessenia said. “OT is the master of all trades. You don’t recognize how much you impact people. If you want to be a positive component of somebody’s life, then OT is the field for you. It’s definitely a rewarding field.”