by Jennifer R. Lloyd (M.B.A. ’16)
Raul Rodriguez, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, was already a year into his Master of Business Administration program at St. Mary’s University in the summer of 2022 — with just one semester left until graduation — when he received orders.
His mission would involve heading to Germany to support military aid flowing to Ukraine in the conflict with Russia. Rodriguez’s professors worked with him to ensure he could complete his degree while serving abroad.
“It was a huge relief because, for a moment there, I didn’t think I was going to be able to balance the two,” said Rodriguez (M.B.A. ’22), a first-generation student originally from Miami. “I was very anxious when I got notified I was going to Germany about how I would be able to do this. I was lucky that I was able to find courses flexible enough.”
Balancing service and studies
Earlier in his military career, Rodriguez deployed to Iraq during the Iraq War and served in South Korea, along with various stateside assignments. Along the way, he earned six commendation medals.
He served on active duty in the U.S. Army from 2005 to 2018 before transitioning to the Army Reserve. He was activated again in 2019 for two years. Toward the end of that mobilization, he began looking at MBA programs and began at St. Mary’s in 2021.
In part, he was drawn to St. Mary’s because of its faith-based mission.
“I’m Catholic, and I always thought that was an important part of my education that was missing in my undergraduate education,” said Rodriguez, who earned a bachelor’s in Business Administration from Florida International University in Miami. “The philosophy of St. Mary’s University, being welcoming to all, drew me in. The University has a very diverse student population. Some are Catholic, and some are not. Everyone gets treated the same and shares their different points of view.”
Then, in the final stretch of his studies, Rodriguez received orders to head to Germany. As military equipment arrived in Europe from the U.S., a U.S. sustainment brigade in Germany was coordinating arms-length shipments to Ukraine via a non-NATO country.
Rodriguez described the small part he played as ensuring the American equipment, such as tank, helicopter or automotive equipment, had the support and parts necessary to maintain a protective umbrella within the European Theater and military readiness in case the conflict expanded to other countries.
Online classmates and long-distance lectures
His Greehey School of Business professors worked with Rodriguez to allow him to watch lectures when he could and complete the necessary work. The MBA program at St. Mary’s continues to be offered fully online.
“Whenever I had a free moment, because I had the app on my phone, I was able to view the classes and stay on task as the week progressed,” said Rodriguez of his virtual studies.
“The philosophy of St. Mary’s University, being welcoming to all, drew me in. The University has a very diverse student population. Some are Catholic, and some are not. Everyone gets treated the same and shares their different points of view.”
Rodriguez said the Management of Information and Technology class taught by Jialin “Jolene” Zhao, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Quantitative Management and Chair of the Department of Finance and Quantitative Management, stood out for its approach to online learning.
“Her blocks of instructions were shorter, like little webinars,” Rodriguez said. “Her lectures only lasted about an hour, recapping the material we had read ahead. So, it wasn’t so taxing.”
Zhao said that though Rodriguez could not attend the synchronous portions of class because of the time difference, he “demonstrated a high level of dedication and commitment.”
“He found a way to contribute to our discussions actively,” she said. “He was a valuable participant in the asynchronous discussions, consistently engaging with peers and providing insightful commentary.”
Rodriguez said he got to know his classmates mainly through their personalities on Zoom. He was even able to walk the stage with them in the December 2022 University Commencement Ceremony, by which time he had returned to the U.S. and was stationed at Joint Base San Antonio.
By the following spring, Rodriguez had welcomed a new son into the world and started a new position as a financial examiner in the banking industry, which he learned about through a job fair organized by the St. Mary’s Career and Professional Development Center.
He described one of his lingering memories of St. Mary’s — an impactful visit with the Rev. Jim Tobin, S.M., the Greehey School of Business Chaplain.
“When I was in undergrad, if I wanted to talk to someone, I’d go to student services,” Rodriguez said. “But with Father Jim, it was just more personal, and it was more of a conversation. He helped me through a difficult time as I was just starting at the University. He really made a difference to get me on the right path.”