Military Veterans Take the Next Step With EMBA Program

August 23, 2012

Chief Warrant Officer Manny Rodriguez Chief Warrant Officer Manny Rodriguez, right, now retired, participated in a promotion ceremony in Iraq in 2007. He is now preparing to start a job with Amazon.com.

By Sandy Hicks

Twenty-six years ago, no one in Manny Rodriguez’s life would have believed for a minute that he would become a decorated military veteran (Bronze Star) and stand-up husband and father with five college degrees – but that is exactly what he did. His latest accomplishment was his 2011 graduation from UTEP’s Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) program.

Growing up in the Lower Valley, this Socorro native with a penchant for car racing and other shenanigans found himself as a high school student standing in front of a judge on more than one occasion – and by his own admission spent the bulk of his after-school job pay on speeding tickets and other fines.

“Thankfully, there have always been good people in my path to turn me in the right direction,” Rodriguez said. “I was raised with a strong work ethic – I just had a wild side.”

What he did not know then was that his parents and one of those ‘good people’ Rodriguez would encounter throughout his life, Judge Frank Macias, were in cahoots for his benefit.

“The judge gave me a choice of the military or more severe punishment if I ever showed up in front of him again,” Rodriguez said, laughing at the memory. “When I didn’t show up at the recruiter’s, he [the judge] sent two detectives to pick me up and take me to the recruiting office – scared me to death.”

The Marines missed out that day when their recruiting office was closed – and Rodriguez became a private in the U.S. Army at age 17. He was hooked from the start with military life.

“I couldn’t believe it – how could anyone not like the Army? They taught me a skill, gave me two pairs of boots, more underwear than I had ever owned in my life – and I got to jump out of planes!” he laughed. It was the beginning of becoming the man, soldier and student he never knew he could be.

Through deployments to Desert Storm/Desert Shield in Kuwait, and two stints each in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rodriguez began his military career by honing his English in the Army – and went on to become a paratrooper, Spanish linguist and logistics expert, planning and executing massive endeavors of mobility, moving supplies, soldiers and equipment to all parts of the world.

It was while he was assigned to Ft. Lewis, Wash. that another good person crossed paths with Rodriguez – this time Sgt. John Ingram saw a potential for learning in the very young Rodriguez that Rodriguez did not see in himself. Ingram insisted Rodriguez take entrance exams and enrolled him at the local community college. What followed through the years in his academic life was an Associate of Arts degree, a B.A. in sociology from UTEP, and a B.A. in psychology, all from St. Leo University in Florida. He then earned an M.S. in administration from Central Michigan University. 

Rodriguez’s military career continued on an upward path as well – he was accepted to Warrant Officer’s Candidate School and completed it successfully. Along the way he married Victoria, and the driving force behind his academic pursuits became his two children.

Chief Warrant Officer Rodriguez was not through yet – he loves to learn, and wanted to further his education in the area of business.

Chief Warrant Officer Manny Rodriguez Rodriguez is shown at his 2011 EMBA graduation with wife, Victoria and children Gabriella and Emilio.

“My sister is an entrepreneur and a successful businesswoman, and my mother was involved in commerce and sales – so business has always intrigued me,” Rodriguez said. He investigated the possibilities on UTEP’s website and ended up in front of Assistant Dean of M.B.A. Programs Laura Uribarri.

“It was immediately clear to me based on his past military and leadership experience and education that he was a perfect candidate for this inaugural class of the brand new EMBA program,” Uribarri said. Rodriguez flourished in the program.

“It became like a brotherhood,” he said. “We had business owners, a CFO, CPA, HR expert, private consultants, a restaurant owner, and IT guys, just to name a few, and me – a military man. We learned so much from each other.”

Thirty-two students have graduated from the first two cohorts of UTEP’s Executive MBA program. The 48-credit-hour program meets every other week on Friday and Saturday and includes a one-week international field study.

Rodriguez loved the Socratic method of teaching, the interactive conversations and the camaraderie. Now, he considers himself to be a “walking billboard” for the EMBA program. One of his recruits, signal corps officer Maj. Maribel Ostergaard, holds the same affection for the program.

Ostergaard Maj. Maribel Ostergaard, now retired, was stationed in the Phillipines in 2006.

Ostergaard heard Rodriguez speaking in such glowing terms about the EMBA program in their Brigade Modernization Command offices at Ft. Bliss that she had to find out for herself. Ostergaard is Army tough – having entered UTEP’s second class of the EMBA program with a one-month old baby and her husband deploying just a few months into the program, she “managed her life and education with grace and excellence,” Uribarri said.

Ostergaard also had good people in her path to higher education. Command Sgt. Maj. James E. Walthes was Ostergaard’s boss when she was a young soldier stationed at Fort Bliss.  

“He kept pushing me to take classes, and although it took me nearly 11 years of attendance to many colleges and universities throughout the world, I finally got my B.S. in criminal justice from Tarleton State University in December 2002.”

Ostergaard sees a parallel between military principles and civilian business principles taught in the EMBA program.

“In the old days, the Army's slogan was: ‘We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day,’” she said. “To this day, this holds true in my life. That kind of dedication, coupled with the time management skills crucial for all soldiers to learn early in their careers, are key to success in any type of environment. The EMBA program supports these same ideals.”

Ostergaard Ostergaard completed the EMBA program in July 2012. She is shown at her graduation with her parents, Javier and Hortensia Hinojosa, left, and her husband, Matthew.

Ostergaard feels solidly equipped to begin her business venture, a franchise called "Just Between Friends" – a national sales event business. This venture provides a place where customers can buy and sell gently used children's and maternity clothing and equipment at discounted prices, as well as providing opportunity for involvement in local charities. Ostergaard credits the EMBA program with much of her sense of preparedness.

Rodriguez has accepted a position with Amazon and will be relocating to San Bernadino, Calif. In Rodriguez’s opinion, Amazon’s goals closely match his military experience and the principles taught in the EMBA program – safety, quality, customer experience and productivity, to name a few.

“I learned so much in the EMBA program and my military career that will translate straight into my position with Amazon,” he said.

“It has been an absolute honor and a pleasure to work with Manny and Maribel as they make their transition from their military careers to their business careers,” Uribarri added. “They approached their graduate business studies with the same discipline, rigor and dedication that made them successful officers. The Executive MBA provided the perfect vehicle for them to attain the business skills they needed to be successful in the next phase of their professional lives. It also provided a synergistic environment in which military and civilian leaders from various fields build meaningful and long-lasting networks."

Reflecting back on his spirited youth, to his “strongly recommended” entry into the Army, all the way to his graduation among proud family members and friends from UTEP’s EMBA program, Rodriguez said: “It’s easy to make a left turn – harder to make the right turn.”

 
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