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Service Is In His Blood: Meet the New President of the UNO International Alumni Association
He never dreamed of becoming a doctor, says New Orleans pathologist Fred Rodriguez. Like many University of New Orleans alumni, he is the first member of his family to graduate from college.
As a first-year student, he knew that he enjoyed the sciences, but wanted to choose an academic degree that would give him marketable skills immediately upon graduation, Dr. Rodriguez says. So he decided to pursue coursework in medical technology.
"I probably would not have ended up in medicine, if it were not for the pre-professional adviser that was at UNO at that time," Dr. Rodriguez recalls. "I would not have thought of going to medical school, if she hadn't planted the idea in my head."
Former UNO biology professor Fran Ivker took one look at the bright young man's course load and advised Rodriguez during his sophomore year that the courses he had chosen resembled those of a pre-med curriculum. Create an opportunity for yourself, she told him. Give yourself a chance. Give yourself a choice.
Spurred on by her encouragement, he elected to follow a pre-med curriculum, take medical school entrance exams and apply to medical school. The professor changed the young man's life.
Dr. Rodriguez, a graduate of St. Martin's High School in New Orleans, completed his Bachelor of Science in Biology in just three years in 1972. He headed to Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans and began dating a nurse named Susan Miller. He first met his wife in an Honors English composition class, the first class he took at UNO. She was a student at the LSU School of Nursing when they started dating.
The couple, who celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in December, now has four children and four grandchildren. Their daughter Kathy is a fine arts instructor at the University, where she heads the St. Claude Gallery.
Dr. Rodriguez works at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as chief pathologist and head of laboratory medicine service for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. The New Orleans-based laboratory he leads helps to determine the medical prognoses and care of more than 35,000 veterans throughout the region.
Dr. Rodriguez is a former national director of pathology and laboratory medicine for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and past president of the American Society for Clinical Pathology. He is also the president-elect of the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science and his many awards include ASCP's Israel Davidsohn Award for Outstanding Service, which he received in 2009.
Since 1977, Dr. Rodriguez has taught pathology to second-year medical students, as well as pathology residents at the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans, where he was named the Emma Sadler Moss Professor of Pathology in 2005. In June, LSU Health Sciences Center named him one of three 2013 Medical Alumni of the Year.
A team-based leader who prefers to operate by consensus, Dr. Rodriguez plans to bring the same vision, precision and scrutiny that he employs in his laboratory and classroom to the University of New Orleans International Alumni Association when he takes the helm in January and mounts an aggressive push to reengage alumni.
He aims to continue the success propelled by current president Norma Jane Sabiston—a renowned political consultant who has worked with President Peter J. Fos to define strategic goals.
Under Sabiston's leadership, the alumni association nearly doubled its membership in 18 months. Dr. Rodriguez plans to draw on that momentum, believing that with more than 70,000 alumni graduated from the University since 1962—and approximately 35,000 living in the greater New Orleans area—membership could and should soar.
"You just have to take that one step to register," Dr. Rodriguez says. "Just graduating does not mean you are part of the alumni association. You have to join the alumni association."
Alumni engagement is a key measure in national rankings of universities and research foundations want to see a level of support before awarding grants. By simply joining the alumni association and by making consistent financial contributions, however small, graduates can make an enormous difference in the future of the University.
"You don't have to build Kirschman Hall. Any level of giving constitutes participation," he says. "If you do a little self-reflection, and you have had some degree of success in the world, would you have really had that level of success without your UNO degree?"
Activities for the year will focus on improving student recruitment and retention, building pride and awareness, reengaging alumni, advancing professional development programs for students and young alumni and raising funds to help develop University programs, says Pam Meyer, executive director.
Above all, alumni association activities will be tied to strategic outcomes and focused on measureable results, says Dr. Rodriguez.
"We're looking to continue the focus that Dr. Fos has on recruiting, retaining and graduating the best students that UNO can get."