November 13, 2015Erika Rodriguez G ’08, ’12 is researching and characterizing thermal protection systems material performance during re-entry at NASA's Ames Research Center. She attended the Orion EFT-1 launch at Kennedy Space Center and had the task of extracting material from the actual heat shield flown on the Orion to study its material response post-flight. Rodriguez is the only Hispanic female engineer currently working on this critical task at NASA Ames. “While I was 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. 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.” “The incredible network and support I had during my five years at Syracuse University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science was invaluable. I gained lifetime mentors that 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 and helped me to develop extensive knowledge and experience in research and development of novel materials for practical applications.” Upon receiving her doctorate, Rodriguez joined the Society of Women Engineers Santa Clara Valley (SWE-SCV) and 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, SWE-SCV only provided merit-based scholarships. She successfully pushed to provide need-based scholarships in the Santa Clara Valley area in 2014. Making an international impact, Rodriguez was selected as a cultural mentor for an Emerging Leader from the Gaza Strip through the TechWomen program. She helped acclimate her Emerging Leader to the daily lifestyle of the U.S., while mentoring her in her academic career goals in civil engineering. During her mentorship, Rodriguez found an appreciation of the current state in Gaza Strip and what it means to be a female civil engineer in the Middle East. The TechWomen program helps inspire and empower the next generation of STEM emerging leaders in Middle East and Africa. TechWomen is an initiative of the U.S Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs launched by Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Due to Rodriguez’s commitment to SWE, she received the SWE Region A Emerging Leader Award, honored as one of the 2015 Silicon Valley Business Journal 40 under 40, and also honored as one of the 40under40 Tech Diversity Silicon Valley. Dr. Rodriguez is committed to educating and inspiring the next generation of female researchers and scientists.