Isolation created by the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, but it cuts to the very being of Michael “Big Mike” Rodriguez.
A Stanislaus State alumnus (history, ’19) who is completing his second year of the Master of Public Administration program, Rodriguez is gregarious and engaging. His ability to walk up to a stranger on campus, introduce himself with a handshake and a “how are you doing?” make him an ideal recruiter for the Asian Connection Club, of which he is president.
He’s finding creative ways to engage with students as an intern in the Office of Student Leadership and Development, where, working under Director Stephanie Hubbard, he’s reviving the Warrior Leadership Program that first launched in 2017.
“I feel honored to know Michael Rodriguez. He’s known as ‘Big Mike,’ but he’s big hearted,” said Hubbard, referring to the name Rodriguez acquired when he was 5 years old from his older brother’s football coach who dubbed him “Big Mike.” “I’m so excited to work with him every day.”
She reached out to him about an internship, because as an undergrad, he seemed to be at every affinity group meeting Hubbard attended. She wanted him on her team and turned over running the Warrior Leadership Program to him.
He has helped enroll about 3,800 students in the program and is in direct contact with between 100 and 200 of them as they build an extra-curricular resume and learn leadership skills through seminars and community service.
In addition to enrolling students in the Warrior Leadership Program and meeting with them once they’ve joined, Rodriguez creates a calendar of campus programs and events participants can attend to fulfill program requirements.
The work was right in his wheelhouse when he started the internship in fall 2019. He’d engage with students and visit with representatives of various departments to share information packets so they’d understand what the Warrior Leadership Program sought to accomplish.
When the campus transitioned to remote operations in March 2020, Rodriguez had to tap into other skills.
“I’ve learned virtual marketing skills, how to create flyers, documents and newsletters and get creative with emails and how to make YouTube videos. I’ve dabbled in making websites to get peoples’ attention,” he said.
Landing a career in Student Leadership and Development is Rodriguez’s dream job, which is suited to his friendly, boisterous personality and ease with people.
“Obviously, I’d prefer it be on the Stanislaus campus. I’ve been here for so long,” said Rodriguez, who arrived in 2017 as a transfer student from Modesto Junior College. “I’ve found I’m really good at dealing with student communities and issues and helping to develop student organizations and student leaders.”
Rodriguez has not just won over students. He’s known to Stan State administrators, faculty and staff who often seek his opinion and perspective at meetings, including the monthly President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion.
“That goes back to my time as an undergrad, when I was heavily involved with student organizations,” said Rodriguez, who was previously a member of MEChA and the Progressive Alliance. “At the beginning, I was just an annoying, boisterous student who spoke way too much sometimes. I don’t know if people were afraid to tell me to be quiet or didn’t want to say anything because of my size, but some of the things I said were good, and some of the things I said were bad.”
He’s learned to keep some thoughts to himself, understanding he is in a unique position with one foot in the student world and one in campus administration.
“I was a very short-tempered Mexican kid,” said Rodriguez, the son of a Mexican father and Mexican/Filipina mother. “Through martial arts, I was able to hone that in and control it. I’ll take one or two seconds to fume, then pull back and look at the situation. I’ve developed a method where I think of a circle with 360 degrees, and I’m at one angle and have 359 other angles I can use to attack or address a situation. All I have to do is go with whatever my head and my gut tells me.”
Martial arts have been a part of his life since he was 5 and watched “The Power Rangers” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” on television. His dad, whom he calls pops, took him to a studio to try it out, just as he took his other four children to explore outside activities and socialize to complement their homeschooling.
He remains a practitioner of numerous martial arts, and the socialization issue was never a problem for the personable Rodriguez.
“He’s amazing, just awesome,” said Hubbard, who hired him to be a student orientation intern for the summer. “I’m not being eloquent enough. He’s an amazing human and people are grateful for his presence.”
It’s his presence that resonates, both with students and administrators.
“I try to stay connected with students as best as I possibly can, and I try to learn as much as possible from other people and their experiences,” Rodriguez said. “I try to explain their ideas as best as I can when I am in meetings with administrators, faculty, the board of trustees and everybody else, so they understand where the students are coming from. Student voices are important.”