Juan E. Rodriguez is easily moved by events and situations. He feels chills every time singers hit the high notes of the national anthem. So, it is natural that his earliest space-related memory, the space shuttle Challenger tragedy in 1986, would make an impression on a young Rodriguez.
“I recognized the impact that space and space travel had on the entire nation,” said Rodriguez, who hails from New Jersey, most notably the Hoboken and Newark areas.
For the past three-and-a-half years, Rodriguez has been making an impact on space and space travel in his own way, as an accountant in accounts receivable at the NASA Shared Services Center located at Stennis Space Center. His duties in that role involve monitoring, reviewing, reconciling and analyzing NASA’s accounting transactions and data to ensure that all are in compliance with federal regulations and that the NASA Shared Services Center is delivering quality service to its sister agency centers and customers.
“We support every NASA center and their various financial activities that contribute to all aspects of NASA’s missions,” Rodriguez said. This includes the agency’s Artemis Program, which will send humans, including the first woman and next man, to the Moon by 2024. From that point, NASA is committed to traveling to other deep space destinations, including Mars. Stennis is testing rocket engines and stages to help power the new Space Launch System rocket that is the backbone vehicle of the Artemis Program and missions elsewhere.
In addition to his work in the financial realm, the transplanted Diamondhead, Mississippi, resident also is using his easily inspired nature in his role as the Special Emphasis Program manager for individuals with a disability at the NASA Shared Services Center and Stennis.
“My goal is to create and share a learning environment about individuals with a disability,” Rodriguez said. Special Emphasis Programs were established more than 40 years ago to focus attention on groups that have historically been absent or underrepresented in specific occupational categories or grade levels in the federal workplace. Several managers work at the NASA Shared Services Center and Stennis to highlight various affected groups.
Overall, Rodriguez believes the two entities are well diversified, thanks in part to the southern tradition of hospitality and the blending of diverse rich cultures of hospitality and coastal life. “How can anyone say ‘no’ to the Crawfish Festival and Mardi Gras?” he said.
“These elements are an essential part of what makes Stennis Space Center unique.”
Rodriguez began his career in the federal sector in 2007, following graduation from the Rochester (New York) Institute of Technology. He worked with the U.S. Army prior to transferring to NASA and Stennis in 2016.
It has been a positive move, he said. “The best thing about working at Stennis is the people. Everyone is super friendly and a team player. We are small in numbers but great in spirit.”
He looks forward to the possibility of working alongside engineers and propulsion testers one day. “That would be exciting,” he said.
Rodriguez was selected for the 2018 NASA FIRST (Foundations of Influence, Relationships, Success and Teamwork) Program, NASA’s leadership development program for early career employees. He also has received “on the Spot” awards for systems training he led earlier this year.
“I learned from the FIRST Program to apply the concept of accountability, to adapt to changes, to be vulnerable and to ground my inner core,” Rodriguez said. “These essential elements enable me to apply the discipline needed to achieve my goals. Along with these crucial elements is the inspiration of NASA’s mission objectives and the feeling of being part of a great moment as we gear up to travel back to the Moon and beyond.”
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