Dr. Linda Rodriguez dutifully followed the advice of her grandmother, Carol Stillman Champlin, to avoid becoming a teacher. At least, for 24 years she did.
"I had the dream of becoming a teacher from the time I was four years old," Dr. Rodriguez said. "I wanted to be a high school history teacher. My grandmother, who was an art teacher from Hornell, New York, told me, 'No, Linda, don't do that. There's no money in teaching.' I said, 'Okay, now what?'"
Working for Uncle Sam was the answer. Dr. Rodriguez built a successful career in the United States Army and Army Reserve, discovered the bliss that is El Paso, Texas, and earned two bachelor's degrees, a master's degree and a Ph.D. before finally following her heart into the classroom.
"There was quite a bit of personal growth that had to take place along the way," said Dr. Rodriguez, MBA Director for Online Programs at USC Aiken. "I had to be really open to that. I also had to be open to a lot of failure at the same time. I love what I do. I enjoy the students."
After Dr. Rodriguez left her hometown of Brockway, Pennsylvania, for the Army, she was in the Military Police, as an operations manager, an instructor, a mechanic and a logistics technician while serving her country. She made stops in Europe, Central America and the United States.
"I had the same takeaway from the Army that I have now, which is working with others and trying to influence young minds in a positive way," she said. "That was after I got older, of course, and changed. Originally, I just wanted to travel and get out of Brockway."
On the Rio Grande
As Dr. Rodriguez was winding down her active duty military career as a sergeant (E-5) at Fort Bliss, she graduated from the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) with her first Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting in 1988.
"The good news was I had the GI Bill benefit," she said. "My grandmother, who told me not to become a teacher, put some money aside for my brother and me to go to college. But I spent it all on my first car, which I wrecked. I'm not a traditional person."
Then, Dr. Rodriguez moved to Philadelphia, where she worked as an Army Reserve recruiter. She was eventually drawn back to El Paso, where she went to work for Helen of Troy Limited before returning to school. Dr. Rodriguez added a Bachelor of Business Administration in computer information systems from UTEP in 2000.
"It was trendy," she said. "In high school, I went to the local vocational tech school and learned how to do COBOL programming. I went back and brushed up on my skills. The UTEP School of Business had a little niche for COBOL programming.
"I felt really comfortable with that. It helped me. I was able to do desktop support and work with other people's computers and help them out. It was a good lesson. All of these varied skill sets made me very independent and self-reliant."
Leap of Faith
Dr. Rodriguez worked in the treasury group as a COBOL programmer for Principal Financial Group and as an administrative manager with Georgia-Pacific before the book "What Color Is Your Parachute?" written by Richard N. Bolles helped persuade her to follow her passion and greatest skill set by becoming a teacher.
"Twenty years after I denied it and joined the Army, I came to the conclusion that the only thing I wanted to be in my life was a teacher," she said. "I journeyed back to El Paso, and I got my MBA at UTEP in 2004. Then, I moved down to UT Pan American and graduated with my Ph.D. in management and international business in 2008. I was 49 years old. The rest is history."
After one year teaching at North Carolina Central University, Dr. Rodriguez came to USC Aiken as a business teacher in 2009. She currently teaches courses in the three online MBA programs — general, accounting and finance. Dr. Rodriguez became the MBA director for online programs in early 2019.
"It's a brand new position," she said. "It's kind of neat. We support the Bachelor of Business Administration online degree completion program for the Palmetto College system, which encompasses all of the two-year schools which are part of the USC system and all of the online classes around the state in the USC system."
Dr. Rodriguez was at USC Aiken when it initially added online undergraduate business courses.
Since 2013, the university has refined the courses and programs as online education continues to grow rapidly. Dr. Rodriguez enjoys the process of building courses more and more each year.
Not a Traditional Person
Now that Dr. Rodriguez has a new job title and still does what she loves, she is happy her personal journey turned out the way it did — especially since she discovered El Paso, which she says is the best place she's ever been from a spiritual perspective, along the way.
Dr. Rodriguez hopes to continue helping the online MBA programs grow at USC Aiken and, of course, making a difference.
Although Dr. Rodriguez's grandmother passed away not long after telling her not to become a teacher, she feels sure that the former art teacher is pleased that her granddaughter came full circle to follow in her footsteps.
Dr. Rodriguez swears that her grandmother "appeared to me one night in the dark and told me, 'Congratulations.'
"I thought I was the only one impacted by what people tell us about education when we're really young. My mother got a nursing degree, and her high school counselor told her she wasn't smart enough. Dr. Rodriguez told her mother that 'If you can get through chemistry, biology and anatomy, you're pretty smart.'"
Dr. Rodriguez said, "My grandmother and my mother were a bit ahead of their time, and they were very inspirational."
All three of them found the right color parachute.
Learn more about the USC Aiken online MBA programs.
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