Aileen Rodriguez-Rogers, a distinguished alumna of the University of South Florida (USF) and former member of USF’s Latin Community Advisory Council, has forged an extensive and highly accomplished career. Whether she is championing for the rights of minority groups or serving as an advocate for her local community, this is her story.
Rodriguez-Rogers was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and lived with her mother, father, siblings, and grandparents during the first few years of her life. Her father owned several dairy farms in Puerto Rico and Florida throughout his life, and eventually owned dairy farms exclusively in the Tampa Bay area. When Rodriguez-Rogers was just shy of five-years-old, her family made the decision to permanently relocate to Florida.
During this time, she recounts the frequent travels between Puerto Rico and Florida so her father could tend to his business. Growing up in two different locations gave her a deep appreciation for her childhood and her culture.
“My childhood was wonderful because I had so many fun experiences traveling and living on dairy farms. When I was four or five and began school, I learned to speak English with my school friends and by watching television. Being bilingual is so important to me and I treasure my Hispanic culture and heritage. I’ve been fortunate to use Spanish in every single professional role that I've ever had. I'm thankful for that continued connection to my culture,” Rodriguez-Rogers said.
Before becoming an alumna herself, her mother was a graduate student at USF and later became a Spanish professor. Rodriguez-Rogers fondly recalls her mother picking her up from elementary school and bringing her along to Spanish classes at Cooper Hall. She would sit in the back of the lecture hall working on her own homework. This memory played a significant role in fostering her deep appreciation for USF, as she went on to attend and graduate with a degree in communications.
“As an educator, my mother instilled in me a love for education at an early age. I'm so thankful to have grown up being exposed to higher education. I saw firsthand the positive impact education can make in a person's life. She is now 86-years-old and especially enjoys helping my son Aaron with his USF Spanish language studies,” Rodriguez-Rogers said.
Following her graduation, Rodriguez-Rogers went on to become a public affairs executive, gathering over two decades of expertise. She has worked in various fields including health care, government affairs, education, and tourism. Throughout her career, she has guided organizations in their communication and community engagement efforts, connecting them to the most suitable audiences.
Over the years, Rodriguez-Rogers became deeply engaged in the Tampa community and has received various leadership awards, including being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the 2019 NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award recipient.
In 2021, she was involved again with the NFL through her work with Tampa General Hospital for the 2021 Super Bowl.
“I worked on the Super Bowl in 2021 as the Super Bowl Experience Project Manager for Tampa General Hospital. They were the exclusive health care provider for the Super Bowl. It was a wonderful experience helping showcase Tampa Bay and our community at a national level. I oversaw the hospital’s volunteers, set up their Super Bowl experience area, helped with Spanish media interviews, and provided support anywhere else my help was needed. I was able to apply a lot of my prior background and expertise towards this role,” Rodriguez-Rogers said.
In addition to her extensive career experiences, Rodriguez-Rogers has always put great emphasis on community engagement, which at her core, represents her true passion. While also fulfilling her role with her family as a full-time mother to her two sons and a wife, Rodriguez-Rogers has served as a volunteer and consultant for various community engagement boards in Hillsborough County.
Using her two decades of experience, she has been able to provide valuable perspectives, enabling positive change in the community.
“One of the things that I love doing and am thankful to be a part of, is serving as a community volunteer on the grant review team for the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. They provide funding grants to nonprofit organizations in the community that support children and families. As a volunteer, myself, community leaders, and business leaders review the grants submitted by various nonprofits from across Hillsborough County. We make recommendations to the board to approve grants that will be impactful and helpful to children and families,” Rodriguez-Rogers continued. “Many of these grants have addressed disparities within the community and focus on ensuring the health and wellbeing of our children and families. Some of the projects that I've seen are amazing and I'm so happy to be part of that.”
In the midst of her community involvement, Rodriguez-Rogers has also been able to give back to her alma mater. One notable example was her involvement with the USF Latino Scholarship Program. She had been a recipient of this scholarship during her time with the university and holds fond memories of what she gained from it.
“The scholarship had a major impact on my life, and it put me on the path to where I am today. I was a recipient of a scholarship for two years. Obviously, there's the financial support component, which is a tremendous help to any student. But a really important component of the program was the mentorship experience,” she explained. “I was paired up with a mentor named Delia Sanchez. She was a community leader who worked in the community serving children and families for more than 40 years. She taught me about community service, getting involved, and making a difference.”
Rodriguez-Rogers said she would frequently attend luncheons and meetings with Sanchez.
“She made such a tremendous impact on my life, and I learned so much from her. When I transferred to USF, I didn't know what I wanted to study and needed guidance. My major at that time was psychology, which I loved, but I just didn't quite know. Then I was introduced to interpersonal and organizational communications. I loved every single class that I took. Through those years of being in the scholarship program along with my mentorship experience, and studying communications, I was able to create the foundation for who I am today,” she said.
The mentorship experience had such a profound effect on Rodriguez-Rogers that, a few years ago, she had the chance to step into the shoes of her mentor and give back to other recipients of the scholarship program.
“Five years ago, I was able to also donate to that scholarship fund. I was able to become the mentor of two students, so it became a full circle moment. They're both doing great, and both went on to complete graduate work. Being able to give back to a program that really helped me is very impactful and meaningful,” Rodriguez-Rogers said.
Rodriguez-Rogers has also been an engaged member of the USF Latin Community Advisory Council.
“The president of USF appoints you to the council. The mission of the council is to serve as a bridge between the University and the Hispanic community. They advise the president on matters related to the Hispanic community and assist USF in increasing Hispanic faculty and administrators, as well as increasing the number of Hispanic students enrolled at USF. I was honored to serve on the council for many years and saw a lot of growth and progress in the Hispanic community at USF,” she said.
Rodriguez-Rogers’ passion for celebrating and preserving her Hispanic heritage and her unwavering commitment to the betterment of the community at large serves as a point of inspiration for many. She encourages students to engage with their community in whatever way possible.
“I think it's about having an attitude of helping others in service without expecting anything in return. I encourage people to volunteer their time. If you’re asking yourself, ‘Well, what do I do? Where do I volunteer?’ think about things that you're passionate about or that are meaningful to you as a person. I'm passionate about children and families, and my culture and heritage. Those are themes you'll see in the boards that I've joined and have participated in. I think we can always use more leaders in the community. It's just a matter of engaging and getting involved. There's so much synergy between the community outside of USF and the community within USF. I would encourage people to get more involved in something that you're really passionate about,” Rodriguez-Rogers said.