Wednesday, May 8, 2024
  Around Campus, Academics, Student Spotlight, Accolades

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – MAY 8, 2024 – UTRGV graduate Marissa Rodriguez, 29, from Peñitas, has learned the hard way that she can overcome any challenge with the support of her family. And that even includes a Final Destination-like brush with death.

In 2017, she had made the difficult decision to put off her nearly complete undergraduate career so she could work for a semester. Then a freak car accident like something out of that pop horror film delayed her return to school until 2023.

“Something fell off the truck in front of me, spinning. It went through the bottom of my car, and lifted the whole car for a second,” Rodriguez said. “The car came down again – and next thing I know, there's an industrial-sized crowbar lodged into the bottom of my foot.”

Doctors said she was lucky to make it out of the incident alive, with not even a broken bone. She even still drives the car today.  But it was a strange and gruesome injury that kept her off her feet as it did not close for six months – with nerve damage and resulting chronic pain that required physical therapy for years after. 

Despite it all, resilience fueled by her family’s support spurred her forward, and on Saturday, May 11, Rodriguez will walk – yes, walk – across the commencement stage to accept her bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication.


It was a long road to get to this point, though. Losing mobility and delaying her education was devastating, both physically and emotionally, she said.

“I was stuck in a really dark place for a long time," Rodriguez recalled. "When something so horrible happens, you really don't know where to start.”

However, it was an opportunity for her family to show her how much she was loved.

She blinked back tears, remembering how her family was there for her through every step when she had to learn how to walk again. 

“It didn't seem like something I could do at that time,” she said. “Now, I’m going to set that example in my own family.”


While it was a difficult period in her life, it was moving to see how the whole family came together.

Rodriguez, who was living in Edinburg at the time of the accident, moved to Corpus Christi with her mom immediately after for a few months of recovery, during which conflicting medical treatments were a setback. 

However, she wanted to be home in the Rio Grande Valley – around her whole support system – for the physical therapy part of her rehabilitation.

She lived with her aunt and uncle in Mission – who later housed her again when she returned to school – as she started regaining strength in her legs and learning how to walk again. 

“In the end, the good outweighs the bad and we have these shared memories,” she said. “We got through this together.”

She credits her siblings with changing her emotional trajectory and her outlook on life through four years of training with physical therapists.

“They gave me a whole new start. They kept pushing me with small goals – getting up the stairs, things like that,” she said. "I was able to find the strength to keep going."

Every goal she met over those periods of rehabilitation reminded her of her own capabilities and changed her outlook.

"The challenges can become kind of exciting after a while!” Rodriguez said.

Marissa Rodriguez shared a family photo of herself, sister Lauren, grandmother Elma Garza holding her little brother Dylan, and grandfather Cecilio Garza Jr. She said her family’s support was instrumental to her returning to school and being the first of her generation to achieve a college degree in her family. (Courtesy Photo)


Returning to school after years of recovery changed everything for Rodriguez.

She began to explore journalistic endeavors as a mass communication major, focusing on broadcast journalism. She wrote for the UTRGV student newspaper, The Rider, and student magazine, Pulse. Her story, “UTRGV student filmmakers represent at STXIFF,” made the cover of the university’s 2024 magazine.

“It opened up the world for me again,” she said. “It helped me see the kind of future that I had in store.”

"I found community with classmates and teachers, and found what I love,” Rodriguez said. “It helped me to see that this was something I could pursue and make something out of." 

Now, as she prepares to embark on the next chapter of a career, Rodriguez remains committed to helping cast light on the special people in her community and share their stories with the world.

"I love working within the community and finding different voices," Rodriguez said. "If I can facilitate these conversations, it brings life into new areas and places where maybe there was none."


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.