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THE SUN HERALD
Rodriguez Stays Focused In Career
January 17, 2003
Growing up in Santurce, Puerto Rico, Miguel Rodriguez knew at age 17 that he wanted to work in America's space program.
Little could he have known then that staying focused on that goal would lead him to become director of NASA's Center Operations Directorate at Stennis Space Center, where he is responsible for the center's institutional services.
Rodriguez recalls being inspired during the Apollo days: "I remember watching, on a black-and-white TV with a snowy picture, the first footstep being made on the Moon. I saw that and said to myself, 'Wouldn't it be nice to work for NASA?'"
Staying on course to achieve his goal, Rodriguez studied to become a mechanical engineer, graduating in 1976 from the University of Puerto Rico Engineering College in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. A year before Rodriguez graduated, NASA representatives visited the university to recruit career candidates.
With one more year ahead of him at the university, Rodriguez took a chance and spoke with the recruiters, only to find that all the interview slots were filled. "I said, 'This is not good.'"
Determined, he placed his name on the overflow list and was eventually called for an interview. He recalls speaking with representatives from all 10 NASA centers and feeling uneasy about his chances of being selected. "There were three of us interviewed at the same time. I looked at the two others; one was president of the American Society for Mechanical Engineers, student chapter; I was the vice president. I figured if they picked one, it would be him, not me." He and the president of the student chapter , however, were offered positions at NASA.
Upon graduation in 1976, Rodriguez moved to Huntsville, Ala., and went to work at Marshall Space Flight Center as a mechanical design engineer designing parts for the Space Shuttle. In November 1978, he transferred to Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., where he held several key positions working with facilities, providing the capabilities for processing shuttle payloads, and testing experiments as well as communication satellites.
During his career in the payload community, Rodriguez worked as the integration engineer for the STS-31 Hubble Space Telescope payload and worked on several special projects for NASA, including leading the organizational efforts for Strategic Planning and Performance-Based
Contracting. He led a KSC team to develop a tool for capturing employee competencies and skills in support of the Agency Core Capabilities Assessment. He also worked for the chief engineer at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., where he helped implement the Systems Management Office. He co-chaired the Kennedy Space Center 2000 Organizational Team responsible for restructuring the human resources organization.
Rodriguez entered management in the late 1980s, most recently serving as chief of the Integration Office of the Cape Canaveral Spaceport Management Office at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. He moved to Stennis in December 2002 to assume his current leadership position.
"I have known and worked with Miguel for a number of years, and he brings a wealth of experience to Stennis," said Bill Parsons, Stennis' center director. "I am pleased to have him on board and to work with him in implementing Administrator Sean O'Keefe's One NASA initiative."
Pursuing the career Rodriguez dreamed of as a teen has been rewarding for him. His parents, both deceased, lived to see their son achieve lofty aspirations. "It's not very often that we have an opportunity topay back our parents and see them experience the joy of the effort they spent bringing you up and sending you to college," he said. "I felt that I was able to give them something they could truly enjoy."
To honor his heritage, Rodriguez is active in the Hispanic community, serving as a mentor and frequent speaker. He hopes to see more Hispanics join NASA's ranks. He tells young people of all backgrounds to follow their dreams. "If you have an interest in working for NASA, stay on track with your schoolwork and be persistent. You can work for NASA. You just have to make it your priority."
He said the work is worth the effort: "There is no better agency you can work for. NASA is very proactive. It moves along with changes and trends in management. What entices me the most is having an opportunity to help choose my own career path."
Rodriguez lives in Mandeville, La., with his wife, Zulma. The couple's daughter, Sonia, 25; and son, Jorel, 21; live in Florida.