Rodriguez Discovers Leadership, Transformation Through International Study at U of A

Jorge Rodriguez Pena
Cassandra Thomas

Jorge Rodriguez Pena

Graduate and international education is all about discoveries — the discovery of knowledge, the discovery of research and creative scholarship that improves lives, and the discovery of new countries, cultures and people. The Graduate School and International Education is celebrating our students, faculty and staff that make discoveries happen at the University of Arkansas.

Growing up in Panama, Jorge Rodriguez Pena saw his mother suffering from gallstones, an experience that led Rodriguez to aspire to become a doctor.

"I wanted my mom to be by my side all the time, but she had to go very often to the hospital for medical attention," he said.

To achieve that dream of entering the medical field, he knew he would need leadership skills and a bachelor's degree that would provide a solid educational foundation for his future. He's found both at the University of Arkansas, where he is attending through a sponsorship from the Secretaria Nacional de Ciencia, Technologia e Innovacion to study biomedical engineering and serve as president of the Panamanian Student Organization. 

"My journey at the University of Arkansas has been the best time of my life," he said. "The university has shaped me for the better not only with knowledge but with opportunities to flourish as a leader. I have learned respect, empathy, and above all, to take advantage of the opportunities available to me. The U of A truly feels like home."

As a first-generation student and the first in his family to study abroad, Rodriguez wanted a university with abundant educational resources and a strong international community. He was attracted to the U of A because of the Student Success Center and University Recreation, among other facilities.

"The university has so many resources available for students," he said. "They truly want students to succeed."

In the biomedical engineering program, Rodriguez has learned about technological advances in medicine and how to leverage that technology for new medical devices to improve human health. Last summer, he served as a research assistant in the Biomechanics of Growth and Remodeling lab at the University of Texas Bioengineering Summer Training and Research Scholars (BE STARS) initiative. In this role, he developed an experimental protocol for micromechanical testing of reproductive tissue, which led to his work winning the Naveen Jindal School of Management Award recognizing top research projects in the program.

After arriving on campus, Rodriguez set his sights on serving as president of the Panamanian Student Organization. He became the president of the organization in the fall of 2022, giving him the opportunity to hone his leadership skills and strengthen connections with other Panamanian students.

"It's helped me to build out my own leadership skills and other skills like communication and working with people in a team setting. Developing those skills was important to me because they were areas that I always struggled with in high school," he said. "I've also been able to make longstanding friendships and found new opportunities through this experience."

He also discovered Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas, a region that reminds him of his hometown in Canazas.

"I feel that same peace and connection with nature here that I did back home," he said. "The Greenway, the sunsets, the campus — it's all beautiful."

After graduation, Rodriguez plans to take a gap year to work before attending medical school in Panama.

"My time here has been transformational," he said. "Starting a part-time job, managing my own budget, and learning a new language have all been challenges that have shaped me for the better. The University of Arkansas is a great place to pursue and accomplish your goals."



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