ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque woman turned tragedy at a young age into motivation to create change in her community now, she is leaving the Land of Enchantment to pursue an Ivy League degree with plans to return to the Duke City and continue to serve.

It is no secret high school is a trying time and for Sonora Rodriguez, of the Barelas neighborhood, it was at that time in her life when tragedy struck. Freshman year, her mom died of a drug overdose.

“It really shook my world,” she said. “That was really challenging right as a young Chicana losing a mom so young,” Rodriguez explained.

She said she masked the pain of losing her mom by immersing herself in school.

“I really used that experience to kind of spring-board into getting involved in a lot of stuff,” she said.

From orchestra to tennis, student council to becoming senior class president, “I think it’s really shaped who I am today and how I see the world and how I want to help my community,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is a University of New Mexico graduate and is heavily involved in community development groups like the Southwest Organizing Project and the Center for Social and Sustainable Systems. She mentors young people and works with marginalized communities, also volunteering in her mom’s Barelas neighborhood.

“I feel like my story is very similar to a lot of stories that we work with,” Rodriguez explained.

In just days, Rodriguez will move to Upstate New York to begin her masters at Cornell University in city and regional planning, a degree she says she will bring right back to the Duke City.

“I think really knowing where you come from really informs where you’re going,” she said, adding that diversity in city planning departments is essential to understanding the needs of undeserved communities like hers.

“I think she inspires not only the young people she works with, she inspires the older people she works with,” said Beva Sanchez-Padilla, Gender Justice Organizer at Southwest Organizing Project.

Rodriguez has funding set up to pay for most of her degree but traveling to the east coast and getting set up for college once again will come with more expenses.

Her mentors have set up a GoFundMe page to help her settle in.