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Vanessa Panigua poses for photo in McCord building.

Vanessa Rodriguez-Paniagua

“When I went to community college, I didn’t lead. I literally went to school and left. Being here, I feel like I’ve had a lot of encouragement from my professors to do that extra thing. For me that’s being the leader I knew I could always be but needed that extra push to achieve. I’ve appreciated that a lot.”
Major: Sociology
Hometown: Costa Mesa, California
Involvement: President of the Sociology Club; works full-time at Sunrise Community, which offers residential home and companion services to special needs adults

When Vanessa Rodriguez-Paniagua signed up for her last semester of classes at Austin Peay, she had a specific real-life demand on her mind.

The Army planned to move her and her husband, Sgt. Jesus Paniagua, from Fort Campbell to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, in October. Rodriguez-Paniagua needed all her classes to be online. She wanted to graduate in December from APSU.

“I needed to make sure if he didn’t have his orders deferred, I was able to go to Alaska and still continue my education,” Rodriguez-Paniagua said.


She succeeded. Every one of her 13 credit hours in her final semester come from online courses. As it turns out, she didn’t need them; her husband’s orders were moved to January.

Vaness Rodrigues-Paniagua poses in Clement building
“What I like is the professors’ encouragement and having them to talk to. They’re always helpful.”

As a result, Rodriguez-Paniagua gets to attend her December graduation at the campus she’s studied at for more than two years.

She and her husband married in 2015 after she earned an associate degree at Irvine Valley College in California. Soon they were at Fort Campbell, where he serves as a truck driver attached to an infantry unit. She applied, and was accepted, to several universities in the area.

“I decided on Austin Peay because it was close to Fort Campbell, and I wanted to participate in activities, that sort of thing,” Rodriguez-Paniagua said. “And I liked the sociology department. I liked their focus. I liked what the professors were working with.”

She credits the professors with enhancing her college experience; they’re always available whether she’s taking online or on-campus classes (she estimates she has taken 50 percent of her classes online to help navigate around a 40-hour-a-week health care job).

“What really helps me is the professors’ encouragement and really just having the professor to talk to, not only in an academic sense, but also in a friendly one,” she said. “They’re always there to help.”