Graduate Spotlight: Daniel Rodriguez | Thomas Nelson Community College

Graduate Spotlight: Daniel Rodriguez

July 23, 2020

Being a nuclear engineer in the Navy wouldn’t seem to be the perfect starting point for a career in cybersecurity. For Thomas Nelson graduate Daniel Rodriguez, though, it was.

“It’s very applicable to a lot of things because it’s so heavily math and science,” Rodriguez, who also was a combat medic before starting his IT career, said of his Navy career. “You can apply the work ethic to pretty much anything, as well as just studying in general.”

Rodriguez, 29, grew up in Miami and joined the Navy out of high school at the age of 18. He got out of the Navy in 2017, and two weeks later joined the Army Reserve. He was living in Hampton because he had been stationed at Langley so when he decided to attend college, Thomas Nelson was a logical choice. He enjoyed his experience as a medic, but knew he didn’t want to do that as a civilian. He has always been interested in cybersecurity and information technology, but wasn’t able to take that route in the military.

“When I joined the Navy, I kind of got pushed more into doing something I didn’t really want to do,” he said. “But (cybersecurity) was something I always really found interesting.”

In fall 2018, he enrolled at Thomas Nelson, and before he had officially earned his associate degree in Information Technology last month, he had a job lined up. On Aug. 3, he starts his new career with Aermor, a Virginia Beach-based company that, according to its website, “provides cyber and information operations, technical services, professional engineering, and warfare support for government and commercial clients.”

He’s starting on the night watch.

It’s going to be a basic, entry-level cybersecurity position, looking into things, installing anti-malware,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of on-the-job training.”

He’s confident the education and training he received at Thomas Nelson will help him succeed in his new field.

“I feel like Thomas Nelson really prepared me,” he said. “The professors were really caring, and just really good.”

He singled out IT professor Nick Pierce, whom he built a rapport with over their military backgrounds. 

“He was more about showing students opportunities in IT, and getting a job,” Rodriguez said. “He helps people out in more than just school. He gives people ideas. He was extremely helpful.”

Pierce helped Rodriguez set up an interview with Aermor, but noted the student took it from there.

“Apparently, he did extremely well during the interview,” Pierce said.

Pierce also noted Rodriguez seemed to be in charge of his future from the minute he stepped on the Thomas Nelson campus.

“Being proactive in their own education is a big thing for me,” Pierce said. “He really expressed an interest in the cybersecurity program, wanted to try to better his own life.”

Pierce, who has been with the College since 2016, noted the little things made Rodriguez stand out.

“He always did his work, came to class on time, was a really good worker,” Pierce said. “Just being able to do more than the minimum.”

An example of that was while Rodriguez was in the Army Reserve and taking classes at Thomas Nelson, he also was studying on his own for a security plus certificate, which along with his associate degree helped him land the job at Aermor.

Rodriguez remembers being intimidated when he first got to Thomas Nelson, expecting large classrooms and teachers who cared more about their career than those of the students. He was pleasantly surprised.

“I felt like it was the opposite,” he said. “It was really small classrooms, and I liked that, and the teachers cared a lot.

“I would definitely recommend the school.”

That connection Pierce and Rodriguez developed thrills Dr. Susan English, the Vice President of Academic Affairs.

This is exactly how, as our mission statement says, Thomas Nelson can change lives,” she said. “I am so proud of the growth and outcomes coming from the plethora of IT, cyber and computer science programs at the College.”