She Did. She Will. How One UF Student is Inspiring Others.

 

Time Magazine recently released its March issue highlighting 100 influential women of the year. The women inside that magazine all made a global impact, whether they knew it or not, and are continuing to inspire girls and women every day. In times of hardship, it can be difficult to channel the inspiration these women have shown us. Her Campus magazine wants to rekindle that inspiration and empowerment, and keep it burning through hard times for our readers. 

"THERE IS STILL SO MUCH IN THE WORLD WORTH FIGHTING FOR. SO MUCH THAT IS BEAUTIFUL, SO MANY WONDERFUL PEOPLE WORKING TO REVERSE THE HARM, TO HELP ALLEVIATE THE SUFFERING. AND SO MANY YOUNG PEOPLE DEDICATED TO MAKING THIS A BETTER WORLD. ALL CONSPIRING TO INSPIRE US AND TO GIVE US HOPE THAT IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO TURN THINGS AROUND, IF WE ALL DO OUR PART." - JANE GOODALL

Jane Goodall wrote this message on the last morning of 2017. She knew her words would inspire many, and out of the millions of people who were listening, there would be a spark inside of some, that would ignite so passionately it could not be distinguished. 

For 22-year-old Kristina Rodriguez, this spark ignited a long time ago, and it still lights within her today. 

The Environmental Science senior has left an unforgettable impact on the UF campus and her peers, along with the help of many other students to create a more sustainable future. 

During her time at UF, Rodriguez restarted the Surfrider Foundation, started the UF Sustainable Ocean Alliance chapter, and Strong Roots Movement. Each organization had a unique environmental impact and created change on and off campus. 

Rodriguez said that ever since she was a young girl, she has had a strong passion for protecting the ocean and preserving nature. Rodriguez said she discovered the Surfrider organization in middle school when the organization came and visited her school. The Surfrider Foundation was what really sparked her passion for environmental activism. When she first realized the organization hadn't been active for a few semesters, Rodriguez started it back up.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to save the oceans, by whatever scale I could," Rodriguez said. "I've always wanted to make an impact, whether it was on a local, state, or federal level."

Through the Surfrider organization, Rodriguez stumbled upon the Sustainable Ocean Alliance organization when she was chosen to attend the United Nations Youth Ocean Leaders Conference in Bali, Indonesia. Rodriguez said she felt inspired by the organization and created the UF chapter, which was the first one that wasn't on an Ivy League campus. 

"I had over 60 applicants from all different backgrounds who loved the mission and wanted to establish their voice and be an ocean leader."

The Sustainable Ocean Alliance has been very influential through beach cleanups, community awareness, involvement, and collaborating with organizations like Unlitter to make a change. 

"Sustainable Ocean Alliance is really big on cultivating the next generation of leaders and making them believe in themselves by bringing about as much positive change and impact as we can."

Rodriguez said that while she is passionate about both the Surfrider Organization and Sustainable Ocean Alliance, the Strong Roots Movement is the project closest to her heart. The Strong Roots Movement's mission is to bring organic, edible garden beds to schools and low-income communities to teach and empower upcoming generations on how to be green and sustainable. 

With the help of many other students and volunteers, Rodriguez started this movement in Gainesville and took flight with it, going to local communities and helping kids and families by teaching them and allowing them to take home the produce. 

"It not only benefits the kids who are working on the garden beds, but it's benefited the volunteers as well," Rodriguez said. "The volunteers were able to build the connection with the kids, and I saw them really develop true friendships and relationships with the kids."

Recently, the Strong Roots Movement received the Champions for Change award by UF, which recognizes individuals and groups in the UF community who have made significant contributions in the areas of sustainability or health and wellness during their time at UF. 

Senior Hannah Montgomery said Rodriguez was the face of these organizations and had a lot of people working behind her to bring it to life. 

"Starting an organization and being able to set people up to continue it is very challenging, and she has done that successfully," Montgomery said. "She has brought vision and encouraged people to join and continue it into the future."

Rodriguez is getting her masters in environmental management at Yale University in the fall and plans to specialize in environmental policy. Although sad to leave behind friends and organizations she built her passions around, she and other inspiring women started something, and she has left powerful women in charge to continue the mission. 

"I couldn't be more proud of who I'm leaving in charge of all three organizations," Rodriguez said. "The women who will run the organizations are the most incredible and driven women I could have ever imagined running it; I know they are going to really flourish in Gainesville," she said. 

Like Rodriguez, many women are becoming empowered to make change across various platforms. Rodriguez said she and many other girls have been inspired by women in politics like Kamala Harris, a United States Senator, or Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, a U.S. representative for New York's 14th congressional district. Rodiguez said women like these are why she wants to go and change the world, and maybe even work for the United Nations one day. 

"I hope women across the country feel inspired and feel empowered by the women who paved the way before, and in the future," Rodriguez said. "I think it's time that we see more female leaders. We have the power, we have the potential, we have the education, and we are just as qualified as men. I hope more women believe in themselves. They can change things."

March was Women's National History Month, but many weren't able to fully embrace this because of the current COVID-19 pandemic. However, if we look at it the right way, we should be empowering and inspiring females every month and spreading positivity no matter the situation.

The 100 Women of the Year issue of Time Magazine had a quote in it that I found fitting to this message. "Everyone can make a difference. But it takes a certain "can-do" spirit to push forward, defy convention, and change the word for all who follow."

Similar to Goodall's New Year message, this speaks to people ready to change the world, and I think those 100 women couldn't be more proud to see people like Rodriguez and many others making an impact. Despite the uncertainty and disparity the world currently holds, we have the ability to make a difference, and spread some light. Don't be afraid to rekindle your fire, and don't let anything put it out.