Notable Female Alumni of the UPRRP

The UPR system is recognized as having some of the most notable alumni in Puerto Rican history. From poets and actors to political figures, many of the most important figures have graced the UPR classrooms at some point. Some very important women have been students of the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras campus. These ladies have been outspoken about their Hispanic heritage; they have contributed to changing history and redefining the roles of women in society.

1. Julia de Burgos

She was a poet and a civil rights activist for women in Puerto Rico. Burgos served as Secretary General of the Daughters of Freedom, the women's branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Considered by many as the most excellent poet in Puerto Rican history. She enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, where she studied to become a teacher. Upon graduation, Julia worked as a teacher and as a writer for a children’s program on the radio. She published two books, which established her as a poet and feminist writer. Receiving awards and recognition for her work, she was praised by Pablo Neruda, who stated that her calling was to be one of the greatest poets of the Americas. In 2011, de Burgos was inducted into the New York Writers' Hall of Fame.


2. Nydia Velazquez 

The first Puerto Rican Congresswoman and Chair of House Small Business Committee in the United States. Nydia was born into a very poor but politically active family in Yabucoa. Being a product of public schools, she skipped three grades and at age 16 entered the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras where she graduated magna cum laude in Political Sciences. Velazquez is the first Puerto Rican to ever be elected to Congress. She has served in the House of Representative since 1993 and was Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus until 2011. She was given a very fitting nickname, often referred to as “La luchadora” (the fighter).


3. Helen Rodriguez Trias 

She was a pediatrician, educator and women’s rights activist. She was the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association and the first Puerto Rican women recipient of the Presidential Citizen's Medal. Helen is principally known for devoting her life to helping others, specifically in her efforts for helping to expand public health services for women and children in low-income populations in the United States, Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Rodriguez started her education at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, where she was also a student activist and became part of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Aside from studying in la IUPI, she also earned her medical degree from the UPR’s school of medicine (Ciencias Médicas). After doing her medical residency, she established the first newborn center care in Puerto Rico. Thanks to her amazing work, hospital’s death rate for newborns decreased by 50% in three years.


4. Nitza Margarita Cintrón

She is a Puerto Rican scientist and Chief of Space Medicine and Health Care Systems Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras with a BA in biology.  She was awarded the Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, the highest science honor given by NASA. And, in 2004, she was inducted into the Hispanic Engineer's National Achievement Awards Conference Hall of Fame in Los Angeles. She was also recognized as one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the United States by Hispanic Magazine in 2006.


5. Ivonne Coll Mendoza 

She is a Puerto Rican actress and pageant contestant. She enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras where she studied to become a social worker. Upon graduation, Coll worked as a teacher and won the Miss Puerto Rico pageant in 1966 representing Fajardo. Ivonne has starred in many theater productions in Broadway and internationally acclaimed films like The Godfather II. In recent years, she has played several roles in shows like Teen Wolf, Glee and Switched at Birth. You may also recognize Ivonne as the strict, but supportive grandmother in the CW series Jane the Virgin.


The University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras campus is no stranger to the spotlight, but things like this are rarely shared. Our campus has housed and supported powerful, strong and inspiring women. You are not the exception. Go get ‘em!