February 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.
This is a long, difficult path. 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.”
– Manuel A. Rodriguez III
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."
Do you know someone at UTSA who is achieving great things? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we might consider your submission for an upcoming installment of Meet a Roadrunner.