USC Price alumni exemplify leadership in action
At USC’s football season opener against Hawaii, Floy Rodriguez had a special experience.
The recent graduate from the USC Price School of Public Policy’s Executive Master of Leadership (EML) program walked on the field and received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd of 93,607 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 1.
Honored as the “Hero of the Game” for his eight years of military service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Rodriguez stood on the 10-yard-line in his formal uniform, received a handshake and a medal from USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, and had his name announced over the loudspeaker.
It was the walk back up to his season seats near the top of the Coliseum that truly moved him.
“It must have taken me 10 minutes to get back to my seat because everyone in the aisle was stopping me and shaking my hand, thanking me for my service,” said Rodriguez, who took his parents to the game. “When I got back up to my seat, the people around us all gave a standing ovation. I was completely humbled by the entire experience.”
For Rodriguez, it was one more medal accepted for his distinguished military career, which took him to Japan, Iraq and Afghanistan. His military decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and Non-Article 5 NATO Medal.
After years conducting training as a company commander at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, he volunteered to go to Afghanistan as a combat adviser and company team leader in an embedded training program that instructed an Afghan National Army unit. It was there that he received his most prestigious award, the Bronze Star Medal with a combat distinguishing device for valor, for twice climbing into turrets to defend his base against attackers.
Rodriguez came to Southern California after being honorably discharged in 2007. He got a job as a project manager for the Internal Revenue Service with the goal of moving into a management position at the IRS or another federal agency. Though he already had a strong leadership background from the Marines, Rodriguez came to the EML program to help translate those skills to an office environment.
“The EML program was such an incredible experience, both academically, as well as professionally and personally,” Rodriguez said. “The courses provided a theoretical framework and experiential learning environment that allowed me to take my career to the next level.”
Many of Rodriguez’s classmates became close friends, including one who submitted his nomination for “Hero of the Game.” Rodriguez is the first person to receive the honor, which will be a staple at USC home football games this season.
Rodriguez, however, wasn’t the only EML graduate to make an impact at the game. Deborah Castro, who also graduated in May, was responsible for the “Trojan Pride 55” wristbands that Rodriguez and the other spectators were given at the Coliseum gates in honor of Trojan great Junior Seau.
Castro had already been running her own integrated marketing agency, Creative Productions, out of Long Beach for nearly 20 years when she decided to enroll in the EML program.
“One of the reasons I chose the EML program was my interest in the increasing role of public-private partnerships, and how businesses are doing more to team up with nonprofits and public agencies to do good,” Castro said. “I believe we will begin to see more of these partnerships in the future as the social intelligence of business becomes more important to customers and stakeholders. EML provided a relevant framework and approach that applied the clientele we have across all sectors.”
When she found out that USC would be honoring former All-American linebacker Seau, who died in May at age 43, she recognized how to use her company’s sponsorship of USC athletics in a way that would publicize Creative Productions while also providing a social component and giving back to the greater good.
Creative Productions produced wristbands in USC colors with the inscription “Trojan Pride 55” in honor of Seau’s collegiate uniform number for everyone who attended the game. The wristbands pointed to trojanpride55.com, a website where people can submit a story or well wishes regarding Seau. The site had 100,000 hits in the first week and contains more than 100 written tributes. Fans can purchase two wristbands for $5 through the website, with half of the proceeds going to support the study of sports-related brain injuries.
It was the perfect project to put into practice what she had learned in EML.
“Through the Price School of Public Policy, I gained a greater understanding of the role of civic engagement in relation to business and the importance of the social aspect of being an entrepreneur,” Castro said. “Being in the EML program heightened my awareness of different paths to contribute and engage in meaningful ways to make an impact.”