Elisa Rodriguez ’14

Elisa Rodriguez ’14 is helping to shape tomorrow’s critical thinkers one student at a time.

Elisa Rodriguez poses in front of the Dillingham Fountains on campus. 

Elisa Rodriguez poses in front of the Dillingham Fountains on campus. 

Elisa Rodriguez ’14 is a literacy educator on a mission for her students and for the field of education itself.  “I want to put a plea out there for future educators,” said Elisa. “It’s such an important role for our world. It takes a certain kind of heart.”

Nominated for the International Literacy Association’s 30 under 30—an award that celebrates the rising innovators, disruptors, and visionaries in the literacy field—Elisa currently serves as president of the Seven Valley Reading Council. She also works as an academic intervention specialist for Newfield Elementary School in Newfield, New York, just a few miles outside of Ithaca.  

Reading is a joy for Elisa, who sports tattoos of her favorite novels, including The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. She also knows that literacy creates a vital gateway for connecting more fully to the world, whether you are reading for pleasure, filling out a job application, or following street signs.  

“I think it’s important to take a moment to think about what the world would be like if you couldn’t read or write because it would just so completely change your experience,” said Elisa. “If you can’t read text, if it is not accessible to you, you’re so limited in terms of what you can do. You’re given an unfair barrier. It’s kind of like looking through tissue paper where you can see the things, but you just can’t access them.” 

A Deluge of Learning

Elisa moved to Ithaca from Ohio during Hurricane Irene in 2011. “It was a deluge!” she laughed. But she was also struck by the scenery and the warmth of the community right away. “It felt inclusive and welcoming in a way that you really wanted to be a part of it,” she remembered. 

At IC, Elisa appreciated the small classes and faculty who were open to her ideas. “They were professors who really cared about what you had to say,” she noted. “It felt very contemporary, very current. We were centered on the newest educational practices. We were looking at individualizing education and data-driven instruction,” said Elisa, who describes herself as a “numbers person in a humanities body.”  

On campus, Elisa worked for IC’s information technology department in Job Hall. She also helped plan Ed Tech Day for two years, which boosted her skills in planning and leadership. By the time she reached graduate school, she felt well-versed in the concepts that were influencing the field of education: “Ithaca really prepared me to feel confident as a leader.” 

“I want to put a plea out there for future educators. It’s such an important role for our world. It takes a certain kind of heart.”

As a guide (a term she prefers to teacher), Elisa helps budding readers navigate the “muddy process” of learning to read their own way. “I think it’s really important to show students that it’s okay to have preferences,” she said. For instance, if turning on the subtitles of video games helps them practice their reading, she’s on board. “Is that the only way I want you to read? No. But is that a great way to get your foot in the door? Yes, and that is what matters to me at the end of the day.”  

Elisa also loves showing students of all ages that every subject (like say, combining English and math, or history and English) is inherently connected. Recently, she asked her fifth graders to use geo mapping to chart their read of James and the Giant Peach. “We zoomed in on where the places might be, based on the descriptions in the book,” she said, clicking on a link that took students to the Cliffs of Dover and, later, New York City. “Then they wrote letters from different stops on the peach.”  

In all of her work, Elisa loves watching her students (whom she calls the “youth of America”) become prepared to succeed as skilled readers and critical thinkers: “It’s so nice to see the triumph in their minds and bodies.” 


A collection of introductions to the Ithaca College story—about those who continue to write it.
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