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Kendsley Rodriguez: Powering through Surgeries and Pain to Earn Degree

Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of more than a dozen graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.

Mary Dempsey
By Mary Dempsey
  • Commencement |
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Kendsley Joel Molina Rodriguez paid a high price en route to his Bachelor of Business Administration with a certificate in human resources, but it didn’t have anything to do with money. It was all about pain.

The pain came in tandem with two urgent surgeries to address dangerous brain hemorrhages. Then more pain followed as Molina Rodriguez recovered from an unrelated series of six surgeries to treat medical issues affecting his colon.

“There were days when I wanted to quit, to not keep going with the classes,” said Molina Rodriguez, who is among the more than 2,200 graduates receiving diplomas this month from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). “It was constant—surgeries, medical treatment, recovery, pain. Yet I continued to study, to do my homework.”

He recalled joining virtual classes while flat on his back, struggling with post-surgical pain, but refusing to give up.

“I’m not going to lie. I was constantly in pain and it was hard, but I motivated myself and my family motivated me,” he said.  

Molina Rodriquez had been stationed with the Navy in Japan for four years when he spotted a sign for a UMGC academic office. He stopped in to find out what programs were available through the university and was delighted to discover that the university would transfer credits for the two years he had studied toward a computer engineering degree in Puerto Rico.

He started taking classes, with interruptions when his military duties were too demanding. His goal was to clear his associate degree then push on to finish a bachelor’s degree.

“Everything was going good,” he recalled. “Then on Jan. 8, 2018, I was told in Japan that I had malformations on the brain[MD1] .”

Within a week, he was airlifted from Asia in a medevac flight to Maryland on May 01, 2018, where he received emergency treatment for bleeding on the brain. A month later, still stateside with his wife and then-toddler son, he underwent his first brain surgery. 

Molina Rodriguez said the flexibility of UMGC’s online learning platform made it possible for him to continue his studies throughout the medical turmoil. He also expressed gratitude for the good counsel of his academic adviser, Aaliyah El-Amin and Shaquwanda Baker, his vocational rehabilitation counselor at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Both of kept in touch by phone and email, even as Molina Rodriguez relocated from Maryland to St. Cloud, Florida. He said they made sure he remained on track with his degree program.

“Without their support, I would have not made it to where I am in UMGC,” he said. “Like my wife, Aaliyah and Shaquwanda supported me through the whole process.

“And I wanted to keep going. I wanted to be an example for my boy,” he added.

After his first brain surgery, Molina Rodriguez took a brief break from UMGC but returned as soon as his health allowed. 

“I continued to study—then I had a second hemorrhage in the brain. It was September 2020,” said 30-year-old Molina Rodriguez.

At the time, he was close to completing his degree, and his professors tried to work with him to accommodate the medical treatment. “But it was too much. I ended up having to withdraw and having brain surgery for a second time,” he explained.

But he didn’t let that interruption stretch on for very long, either. Within three months of the second surgery, he was back in the virtual classroom, determined to finish his bachelor’s degree. Before he could, however, his doctors told him he needed a series of operations, this time on his colon.

Molina Rodriguez said the ongoing medical setbacks made him rethink his future. He found his interest waning in math, science and computers, the fields he pursued when enrolled at university in Puerto Rico. In their place, business started to grab his attention. He enjoyed the UMGC business classes he took, especially a capstone course focused on marketing and strategic management.

He also started to think about the physical limitations that his health crisis caused—and how that would affect a future career. Throughout most of time as a student, Molina Rodriguez remained on active duty status with the Navy. In 2020, however, he left the service under a medical retirement.

“Because of my medical condition, I’m really restricted, limited with what I can do. I can’t do heavy physical activity or anything that causes stress or raises my blood pressure,” Molina Rodriguez explained.  

Increasingly, he started to envision a career as an entrepreneur.

His business dream? To create a real estate company that focuses on designs and renovations of houses. Molina Rodriguez said he and his wife, Vanessa Susana Molina Campana, want to anchor their work around helping veterans, including as counselors. 

Molina Rodriguez said his health is stable right now and he will celebrate the completion of his degree by taking his family and now 6-year-old son on an overnight trip to Disney World.

“My family supported my studies. I want to do something to make them happy,” he said.