(Feb. 24, 2016) -- Meet Manuel Rodriguez ’11. He’s an Iraq War veteran who lost a leg to the conflict, but he’s not letting that hold him back.
Rodriguez is a born and bred military brat. Both of his grandfathers were in the U.S. military, and each of his parents also served. He was born in Waterville, Maine, and bounced around the country with his family throughout his childhood. But like so many military families, the Alamo City was always the place where his family returned.
“I knew I wanted a great education, and this is my hometown, so I came to UTSA,” he said.
Before Rodriguez became a Roadrunner, he was a Marine. He was recruited for the Marine Corps Band because he was a talented trumpeter in high school. Ultimately, though, he signed up for infantry duty.
“I come from a military family, so I guess it’s in my blood,” he said.
Within a year of signing up, Rodriguez began serving in Iraq. On September 6, 2005, he was on a patrol with his company when avery large improvised explosive device (IED) detonated next to their vehicle.
“I was very fortunate, really,” he said. “The blast should have taken my head and arms off, because my whole upper body was exposed to it, but luckily all the big pieces mostly missed me.”
The big piece of shrapnel from the IED that didn’t miss him hit him in the lower right leg, which later required amputation. Smaller pieces hit him as well on the face and shoulders, though he got away with minimal scarring. A bullet-sized piece is still embedded in his left shoulder.
“I spent about a year-and-a-half in the hospital,” Rodriguez said. “I pushed myself to recover as fast as possible.”
Inspired by a high school physics teacher, Rodriguez pursued a bachelor's degree in physics at UTSA. Still plagued by phantom limb pains and frequent associated health issues, he’s persevered. He graduated in 2011 and stayed on to earn his Ph.D. in physics, which he expects to complete in the next two years.
“This is a long, difficult path,” he said. “I don’t take it lightly. The fact that I’ve been surrounded by great people in the physics department has made a huge difference.”
While Rodriguez credits his initial interest in physics to his high school teacher, he says he’s flourished under Miguel Yacaman, Lutcher Brown Distinguished Chair of the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy.
“Dr. Yacaman brought in a lot of funding and equipment to support our research,” he said. “His efforts made me want to stay and help improve the physics program at UTSA. It’s exciting to see it develop so rapidly.”
Rodriguez’s research focus is on nanomaterials and while he’s been pondering a career in private industry after he completes his Ph.D. in two years, he feels he’s being inevitably drawn toward the classroom in a different role.
“I enjoy teaching,” he said. “Physics is difficult, but it’s very rewarding. I’d love to pass that experience on to someone else.”
By Joanna Carver
Public Affairs Specialist
In honor of UTSA's 50th Anniversary in 2019, the university is hosting Roadrunner Days Spring Edition - two weeks of semester-launching activities built around our deeply held values of student success, student involvement, community service and fun!
Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
All UTSA students, faculty, staff, alums & families are invited to march as a unified community. Register here: bit.ly/2TYbHbR. Shuttles will be provided from the Main and Downtown Campuses.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy, 3501 MLK Dr., San Antonio
UTSA's John Nix invites the community to sing "Amazing Grace" and “We Shall Overcome” at 11 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The intent of this nationwide effort is to honor Dr. King's legacy and to spread a sense of community in the United States.
Locations throughout the United States
Opening Reception got exhibit featuring artists Miguel Aragon, Aaron Coleman, Sandra Fernandez, Annalise Gratovich, Marco Hernandez, Kristen Powers Nowlin, & Patricia Villalobos Echeverria
Main Art Gallery, Arts Building (ART 2.03.04), Main Campus
Tracy Cowden, Roland K. Blumberg Endowed Professor in Music and chair of the UTSA Department of Music launches the UTSA 50th Anniversary Scholars Speaker Series with Music as Medicine: The Power and Influence of Music on our Health.
Radius Center, 106 Auditorium Cir. #120, San Antonio
UTSA African American Studies Program presents this series featuring Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University.
Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus)
Join fellow Runners to walk for 10 minutes on the Main Campus. The event reminds us of the importance of exercise, diet and healthy habits in protecting our hearts.
Outside the North Paseo Building, Main Campus
The annual event features authentic foods, music, dance, martial arts, shopping, games and entertainment from China, to the Indian Sub-continent, and the island nations of the Pacific. The Festival features two stages, a martial arts demonstration area, children’s hands on crafting area, anime activities, bonsai and ikebana displays, mahjong table and more.
UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.