Texas Border Business
By Selene Rodriguez
With a strong desire to assist those in need, South Texas College alumna Jaquelyn Rodriguez is now one step closer towards her goal of becoming a lawyer by securing admission to Texas Tech University School of Law, a rigorous journey that started at STC’s Dual Credit Criminal Justice Academy (DECJA) in 2016.
“Five years ago, I wasn’t sure of what I would do with my life, but now everything is falling into place,” she said. “Dual credit with STC not only saved me two years of college and lots of money, but also helped me find a career path before graduating high school. I can’t recommend it enough.”
Born in Fort Worth but brought to Progreso when she was only one, Rodriguez was raised by a single mother who unsuccessfully fought for financial child assistance, a lost battle that would inspire her to seek a career to help others.
“I want to advocate for single mothers because I witnessed my mom struggle to provide for me by herself,” she shared. “I’m also interested in working in immigration because growing up in the Valley, I would hear stories about my friends’ parents working themselves to death with no benefits or social security. I want to be able to educate people about the law and help them find a way to fix their situation.”
Rodriguez was part of STC’s DECJA very first cohort during her junior year at Progreso High School, taking advantage of all the college’s resources at a young age.
This academy is a two-year, year-round dual credit program developed for high school juniors and seniors in Hidalgo and Starr Counties, designed to prepare them for a career in Criminal Justice by providing early college course-work and unique opportunities to enter the field such as year-round seminars, ongoing guidance and presentations by professionals such as the FBI or Border Patrol, as well as field trips to educational institutions in and out of the Rio Grande Valley.
“At 14 I became a college student when I started taking dual credit core classes, but being part of the DECJA changed my life,” she said. “I got a college education for free, had the opportunity to meet professionals from various agencies and networked with classmates from all around the RGV, which turned into strong friendships that I keep up with to this day.”
After two years of splitting her days at her high school and at STC’s Mid-Valley campus in Weslaco, Rodriguez graduated in 2018 with an Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice.
She then applied to Sam Houston University in Huntsville, one of the universities she toured with STC, and graduated two years later with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a minor in Legal Studies.
“Those two years that STC saved me were so helpful and allowed me to find myself and figure out what I really wanted to do,” she added. “Even before moving on to Sam Houston, my associates degree opened so many doors for me. It was the best decision.”
Rodriguez was recently accepted at Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock, as a potential candidate for a Doctor of Jurisprudence, a degree that will allow her to practice law in whichever area she wishes to concentrate.
Leonardo Castaneda, her former instructor and STC’s director of Academies and High School Projects, showed his pride for Rodriguez’ accomplishments and encouraged high school students to continue taking advantage of the resources that STC has available for free, due to strong partnerships established with local school districts.
“I’m proud of her dedication and commitment to persevere. Stories like hers are a testament of the potential that our youth possess to do amazing things out there. It’s all about opportunity,” he said. “My hope for students like her is that they achieve their goals and get to experience what the world has to offer, but they come back and contribute to our community and inspire others to strive for higher education.”
Rodriguez started law school this fall and is set to graduate in 2026.
“Pursuing law school has been overwhelming because of the extensive and complex material, but I won’t let little moments of self-doubt slow me down; there’s a reason why I got in and I’m here, this is what I want to do,” she said. “My hope is to eventually come back to the RGV after I graduate and set an office to be close to my family and help my community. I’m excited of what the future has to offer,” she said.