Outstanding Graduate Overcomes Language Challenge to Make Campus and Community Impact

By Richard Guerrero | Published: August 07, 2019

Outstanding Graduate Overcomes Language Challenge to Make Campus and Community Impact

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A native Spanish speaker from Caguas, Puerto Rico, Biomedical Sciences major Sara Rodriguez Vazquez was still working to achieve a comfort level with her second language, English, when she selected Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in fall 2015.   

“I arrived in Corpus Christi at the end of my eighth-grade year and graduated from Flour Bluff High School. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was my first college choice because of the vibrant and diverse community and because of the opportunities and programs available for students,” Vazquez said.

As a freshman, Vazquez formed a plan to ensure success, a plan that included a heavy emphasis on addressing her emerging skills as a writer and speaker of English.

“Writing and communicating in English has always been a challenge for me, especially grammar. During my first semester, I had to take a couple of English classes and I was worried that I was not going to be able to meet the expectations of my professors,” she said. “Since then, however, I’ve learned that writing takes time and multiple drafts. I discovered that the best way to improve my writing and communication skills is by practicing and receiving feedback from others.”

Vazquez’s diligent efforts have paid dividends: on Saturday, Aug. 10, she will graduate Cum Laude and receive a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences. Vazquez is one of more than 540 graduates who will walk the stage at the Island University’s summer commencement ceremony, which is the largest summer commencement to date.

While on campus, Vazquez was in the TAMU-CC Honors Program and joined a number of student organizations, including the Animal Science Club and the National Society of Leadership and Success, as a way to improve her communication skills. Vazquez has also served as a volunteer for two of the largest events at the Island University: Islander Lights, held in the fall to kick off the Christmas season, and The Big Event, which is the annual service day for students held in the spring. In the community, she also serves as a volunteer at the Texas Sealife Center, a nonprofit based on Padre Island that is dedicated to the rescue rehabilitation and release of coastal and aquatic wildlife.

“Devoting time to all of these organizations has helped me develop my leadership skills and has taught me the value of being part of a team,” Vazquez said.  “One of the reasons I like to volunteer is because the experience teaches you hands-on skills that you might not learn in the classroom. I also get to expand my networking skills by working with outstanding contributors in our community.”

At the Island University, Vazquez participated in the Texas A&M System Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Undergrad Research Program. LSAMP, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, seeks to increase the number of underrepresented students participating in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The program allows STEM undergraduate students the opportunity to conduct diverse, cutting-edge research with active and supportive faculty research mentors while earning a stipend.

Vazquez first began working in the lab of Dr. Lin Zhang, Assistant Professor of Oceanography, as a volunteer before she received an LSAMP Fellowship in fall 2018.    

“My research focuses on using stable isotope ratios of individual amino acids to study oceanography and ecology,” Zhang said. “Sara’s project is to look at the nitrogen isotope ratios in amino acids in different fish species in Nueces Bay to figure out their trophic positions in the food web and also determine the nitrogen source for Nueces Bay. Sara is a good researcher – she’s always on time and she’s always confident and persistent. She doesn’t mind tedious experiments.”

Vazquez said she’s pleased to be contributing to such meaningful and important research.

“This research is important because it helps us better understand environmental conditions and species interaction within the ecosystem,” she said. 

Vazquez plans to apply to veterinary school this summer to pursue her lifelong goal of becoming a veterinarian.

“I want to focus on small animal clinics; I like being able to educate clients so they can provide the best care for their pets,” Vazquez said. “In the meantime, I will be working at an animal hospital and volunteering with nonprofit organizations.”

For Vazquez, graduation day represents the culmination of an academic success plan she set for herself as a freshman.

“On graduation day, I will be successful knowing that I have accomplished all the goals that I set for myself,” she said. “My family is extremely proud because they know how hard I’ve worked to achieve my goals in order to be where I am today.”