Education manager in the communication and public outreach division, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Major: Business administration
2016 OUTSTANDING YOUNG ALUMNI
The Outstanding Young Alumni Award is awarded to an alumnus who graduated within the last 10 years and has dedicated him or herself to serving people, community or the church or has made extensive contributions to his or her career.
Success through working hard
Diego Rodriguez follows a simple plan to achieve success.“One of the reasons I’ve gotten promoted in all of the places that I’ve worked is because I did the work, and I did it well. I don’t take no for an answer, and I don’t cut corners.”
That plan for success brought Rodriguez to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in Washington, D.C., where he is the education manager in the communication and public outreach division.
His drive led Bluffton University's Alumni Association to name Rodriguez as the most recent recipient of Bluffton’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award.
Rodriguez has always been a hard worker. The second of five children to missionary parents in Argentina, Rodriguez worked alongside his father so the family could survive.
“I’ve worked since I was eight years old. I helped my dad do farm work and odd jobs,” said Rodriguez. “I picked apples and I picked cherries, tomatoes and potatoes.”
While in high school in Argentina, Rodriguez had two jobs. “I worked at a taxi company as a dispatcher and then I worked at the front desk at a hotel,” said Rodriguez. “I went to school from 8 a.m. until maybe 12:30 p.m. Then I worked from 2-10 and then 10-6.”
He moved to Iowa and finished high school at Iowa Mennonite School, but still he worked at the farm where he lived. Rodriguez came to Bluffton after being recruited by Dr. Randy Keeler, associate professor of religion, who was the head soccer coach at the time.
“I was looking for a Christian college with a small family feel,” said Rodriguez. “I felt that Bluffton had the things I was looking for, the core values.”
Rodriguez studied business administration and was a star on the field. He was named first team all-conference at Bluffton for all four years. He is the only soccer player at Bluffton to have ever achieved this accomplishment.
College graduation was a key milestone for Rodriguez. Growing up his mom only had a third grade education and his father made it to just seventh grade. Rodriguez became the first person in his family to graduate from college, and he helped pave the way and pay the way for his siblings to also earn their degrees.
Now, his sister is a history professor, one brother is a chef who is helping his parents with their missionary work, one works in the federal government, and the youngest is just starting his career. “They all have their degrees and are professionals,” said Rodriguez. “And my mom finished seventh grade a couple of years ago. She decided to go back to school. She is an example to me. She always has been and always will be.”
While Rodriguez got his degree from Bluffton, he says he gained so much more during his four years.
“I learned about life at Bluffton, about relationships, about God, about leadership and about people. Bluffton was always about people. Don Schweingruber used to say ‘it’s all about relationships,’ and it is really all about relationships and what you do with those relationships. Bluffton really changed my life. I got engaged on campus, and we stayed for a year and a half after I graduated. Bluffton has a special place in my heart.”
Rodriguez married Erika (Yoder ’05) Rodriguez, a music major who was his high school and college sweetheart. She is a speech pathologist, and they have two children: Mateo and Lisette.
After Bluffton, Diego and Erika moved to Milwaukee, Wisc., and both earned graduate degrees. A few years later, Rodriguez began working for NASA in Houston. The family moved to D.C. in 2014 and, this fall, Rodriguez will end his second-year rotation in communications, and will become a permanent employee in D.C.
At work, his main goal is the promotion of space exploration for the benefit of all humankind. At home, Rodriguez is passing on the lessons that were taught by his parents and solidified at Bluffton.
“One thing I talk to my son about a lot is to treat others the way you would like to be treated and more,” said Rodriguez. “If you see someone that needs help, help them. If somebody knocks on your door and asks you for something, give it to them. If you don’t have it, do whatever it takes to get it for them if you can. Be honest. Even if it means that you did something wrong and you have to pay the consequences. Things will go well in life if you follow these rules.”