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Meet Erika D. Rodriguez G’08, G’12

Erika.RodriguezFor Erika D. Rodriguez, Ph.D., it really is rocket science. At the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, she is researching and characterizing thermal protection systems (TPS) material performance during re-entry, developing strategies and non-destructive evaluations for analyzing TPS performance. She attended the December 2015 launch of the Orion EFT-1 at Kennedy Space Center, and extracted material from the spacecraft’s heat shield to study its material response post-flight. The only Hispanic female engineer working on such a critical task at NASA Ames, Rodriguez has a job that builds on her Syracuse University studies.

“While at SU, I was a part of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute, where I had the opportunity to research and develop materials for a diverse set of industrial applications,” she says. “There, I worked closely with my Ph.D. advisor, Professor Patrick Mather. He has been the driving force behind my success thus far in my career. The technical skills and work ethic I developed under his instruction continue to play a role in my career. The professors I had as a graduate student still inspire me today.” 

A member of the Society of Women Engineers Santa Clara (SWE-SCV) Section, she served as the scholarship chair from 2012-2014. In this capacity, she revamped the scholarship application and was instrumental in establishing need-based scholarships. Prior to her involvement, the organization provided only merit-based scholarships.

A Mentor and Award Winner

Rodriguez was selected as a cultural mentor for an emerging leader from the Gaza Strip through the TechWomen program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, which helps inspire and empower the next generation of STEM emerging leaders in Middle East and Africa. She helped acclimate her mentee to the daily lifestyle of the United States, while advising her in her civil engineering career goals. During her mentorship, Rodriguez learned more about the current political and religious realities in the Gaza Strip, and what it means to be a female civil engineer in the Middle East. “My mentee was probably the only female civil engineer working on developing processes and strategies for using demolished material to make new material for new developments,” she says.

In recognition of her involvement with the organization, Rodriguez received the SWE Region A Emerging Leader Award, and was honored as one of the 2015 Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 40 under 40 emerging leaders. She was named one of the 40 Under 40 Tech Diversity Silicon Valley’s inaugural class by TheRegistryBayArea.com, a not-for-profit organization. Committed to educating and inspiring the next generation of female researchers and scientists, Rodriguez credits her Syracuse University experience with helping her succeed.

“The incredible network and support I had during my five years at Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science have been invaluable,” she says. “I have gained lifetime mentors who have coached me to excel in my professional career at NASA Ames. My academic career at Syracuse University laid the foundation for my understanding of material science. I have developed hands on experience in researching and developing novel materials for practical applications.”