An Uncertain Future
2019 was a rough year for Elijah Rodriguez. At the end of his spring semester – because of a variety of factors – he dropped out of his nursing program at ACU in Abilene and moved back to live with his parents in Leander, Texas. He started an associate’s in business administration at Austin Community College and began working at a local YMCA.
With this change, Elijah was able to save money, while working and helping out his family at home. But he felt uncertain. He’d been planning to begin his career as a nurse, but now that seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. He said, “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or where to go.” What were his next steps? Where was God calling him?
This uncertainty was compounded when, just six months into starting his new degree, Elijah’s classes were abruptly moved online and he lost his job at the YMCA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 was shaping up to be an even more difficult year than the previous one.
An Unexpected Opportunity
Elijah was determined to make the best of an exceedingly difficult situation. He pushed through to earn his associate’s degree and started looking for new jobs.
Early on in the pandemic, not many places were hiring, and Elijah didn’t really know what kind of job he was looking for. One day, while searching online, he stumbled across a posting for a part-time position as a teacher’s assistant for Austin Independent School District. Elijah had always been a people person and always had a desire to help others. Teaching seemed well-suited to this, and, more importantly, he really needed a job. So he applied for the T.A. position, and the next thing he knew Elijah was commuting to downtown Austin regularly to assist, manage and help teach middle-school students.
Unexpectedly, he loved it. He enjoyed working with students, and his easygoing, kind, thoughtful manner endeared him to them as well. Elijah joked that the kids like him because he’s only “12 years older than some of them” and he gets all of their TikTok jokes.
Several of the teachers and administrators at AISD, seeing his aptitude and heart for the work, encouraged Elijah to pursue teaching. After being a T.A. for the summer and fall semesters that year, Elijah decided becoming a teacher was his calling. He had a trajectory and goal, after a long year of doubt.
However, there were substantial obstacles. In order to teach in the state of Texas, you need a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate. Elijah had neither. He had his associate’s from Austin Community College but didn’t have a bachelor’s, nor had he even begun the teaching certification process.
Plus, Elijah had completed eight semesters at ACU in pursuit of his Bachelor of Science in Nursing. He didn’t want to have to start a new degree all over again, essentially rendering all the hard work, time and money he put in at ACU useless. So he began researching if there was a way to finish his bachelor’s degree by building on the coursework he’d already done, without having to start from scratch.
Providentially, as he researched, Elijah was contacted by an ACU Online admissions advisor who told him about the Bachelor of Science in Integrated Studies program – a dual-field focus program that would allow Elijah to incorporate credits and coursework from both his BSN at ACU and his associate’s from ACC. Working with an admissions and faculty advisor, Elijah figured out he only needed a semester and a half of coursework from ACU Online in order to get his bachelor’s and fulfill the first requirement to teach in Texas.
Buckling down, Elijah started 2021 with a full course load at ACU Online while still working as a T.A. and tutor with AISD. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in May 2021. Without slowing down, he launched into the summer with committed vigor to earn his teaching certificate as soon as possible. He spent the entire month of June unwaveringly focused on certification classes. “I was pretty much taking classes and working 12 hours a day, seven days a week,” he recalled.
But it was absolutely worth it. By the end of July, Elijah had successfully completed his teacher certification. He now had fulfilled both the requirements to teach in the state of Texas and started applying to various schools in the Austin area.
He didn’t have to wait long. Within a few weeks, Elijah had received an offer to teach sixth-grade math at Leander Middle School – just a few minutes down the road from where he grew up.
An Exhilarating Trajectory
Within a year and a half, Elijah had gone from dropping nursing school, moving back home and struggling to rethink his calling in the middle of a pandemic to entering into a career that fulfills his sense of purpose.
“I absolutely love it. I love hanging with the kids,” Elijah said. “I enjoy coming to work. I have a ton of friends and people my age who are my coworkers, and I feel like I’m really making a difference.” In fact, he’s loved working with these students so much that, in addition to teaching, he has started tutoring fifth- through 10th-graders on the side.
While his priority is offering his students the best possible math education, Elijah ultimately wants them to know one thing: “I want them to remember how much Mr. Rodriguez loved them and listened to them.”
Looking forward, Elijah wants a family and is interested in entering school administration in the next 10 to15 years. He is considering a Master of Education in Instruction and Learning to set him up to become an assistant principal at a middle or high school.
He loves telling his students about ACU. He has purple LED lights lining the ceiling of his classroom and a big ACU Wildcat flag hanging on his back wall. Above all, reflecting on the last two years, Elijah is grateful and “so thankful to finish my degree at ACU. Being able to say I’m an ACU alumnus is the greatest thing in the world.”
Whether you’re looking to start a degree you always wanted or complete a degree you never finished, it’s never too late to further your education. Check out acu.edu/online or contact us at 855-219-7300 to find out how it’s possible for you.