Praised for her scholarship, research and community involvement, Vanessa Rojo ’13 (B.S. kinesiology) is the recipient of the Alumni Association’s Outstanding Graduate Student Award. Rojo was nominated by one of her faculty mentors Jared Coburn, professor of kinesiology.
“Vanessa is a mature, considerate, high-performing student,” said Coburn. “She is easily one of the top students that has attended the University.”
Rojo, who is an undergraduate adviser, will be graduating this August with a master’s degree in kinesiology. And with a dream to teach exercise physiology at the university level, Rojo plans on pursuing a doctorate.
But teaching wasn’t always on Rojo’s career path. She originally set her sights on becoming a veterinarian; however her innate desire to combine her passion for anatomy and physiology with fitness and sports performance led her on a different journey.
“Once I realized I did not want to be a vet, I was worried because I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Rojo. “I love science, especially physiology, and I have always been fascinated by how the body can function under extreme physical conditions. I had to figure out a way to do what I love.”
Rojo didn’t know a lot about kinesiology when she started at CSUF as a transfer student from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but after taking an introductory course, she knew she was on the right track. And despite changing schools and majors, Rojo received dean’s list honors for multiple semesters.
Rojo also had to face dealing with rheumatoid arthritis. She was diagnosed at a young age and at times it prevented her from taking notes during class.
“I don’t know how I managed to get through undergrad without the Disability Support Services on campus,” recalled Rojo. “As soon as I found out that most of my tests for grad school were essay-based, I headed over to DSS and the services they provided allowed me to keep up in all my classes.”
Additionally, Rojo didn’t let her arthritis completely impact the things she enjoyed doing, like playing Mozart and Strauss on the French horn — she’s been playing since she was 11.
In fact, Rojo joined the Placentia Symphonic Band and played with CSUF’s Wind Symphony and campus Horn and Brass ensembles. She plans on one day earning a degree in horn performance.
“I wasn’t always this involved on campus,” said Rojo. “I was pretty shy and let that get in the way of me joining extracurricular activities.
“The turning point for me was when I saw an internship application for the CSUF Employee Wellness Program. I decided to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone.” Rojo is now an exercise class leader for the program.
“As an adviser, I tell undergrads to get out there and get some experience. You can’t truly find out what you want to be, or do, or what you like without trying. I also tell them not to be afraid to ask. You have to be willing to take chances. Once you get over your fears, opportunities arise.”
To no surprise, Rojo found a way to combine music into her thesis, and in July, she will defend her paper: “Effects of Music on Recovery From a Fatiguing Bout of Isokinetic Leg Extensions.”
“Her master’s thesis topic involves complex neuromuscular physiology and high technical measuring instruments. It is equivalent in difficulty to a doctoral dissertation at many schools,” said Coburn.
“I feel pretty prepared for what’s next after graduation,” explained Rojo. “Serving as an exercise physiology lab lecturer has definitely prepared me for my doctoral pursuit while providing valuable teaching experience.”
Rojo credits a host of faculty mentors, classmates, family and friends for helping her reach her academic and personal goals. She will be recognized at the annual Honors and Scholars Awards program Friday, May 15, and will participate in commencement ceremonies Sunday, May 17.
“In the future, my ideal day-to-day would be to teach at a university and perform in a wind ensemble group, while volunteering at an animal shelter in my spare time.”