A succinct but apt description of Simon Rodriguez Jr. ’13’s professional career thus far might read: “In Service to Others.” Since leaving Illinois State University with a history degree in hand, Rodriguez has dedicated his life to serving his community, especially as it relates to youth and families.
Rodriguez, who lives in Aurora with his wife, Thaise, and their first child, Simon, has remained connected to his alma mater. He has returned to attend Homecoming, cultural dinners and alumni events over the years. He has also been a member of the Latinx Alumni Network (LAN) since its debut in 2014 and is the current president of the group.
On September 30, as part of Latinx Heritage Month, he joined four other LAN panelists, along with moderators Dr. Rocio Rivadeneyra from Illinois State College of Arts and Sciences and Dr. Maura Toro-Morn from Latin American Studies and Latin/a from Illinois State. program of a discussion at the Multicultural Centre.
“It was really complete for me to share experiences from what feels like a long time ago since I’m 36 now,” he said. “But the discussion was really on point. It was just fantastic and a real joy to hear other panelists tell their stories.
Rodriguez said being on the panel was a great experience, saying the members’ posts were aimed at first-generation college students and all underrepresented groups. As a first-generation student himself, he said it was important to share his story. While born in Aurora, he was the son of immigrant parents from Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. He said a theme of the panel was to share with students their struggles and remind them that those challenges don’t magically end with a college degree.
“There’s a relevance with current students when you talk about the struggles and challenges we faced after college,” Rodriguez said. “We discussed what you do when you graduate, the process of finding a good job, buying a house, starting a family. These are universal themes.
As a result of his upbringing, Rodriguez is a native speaker of Spanish and English, which he calls a “wonderful” gift. He began his career as a bilingual social studies teacher at East Aurora High School, where he spent over four years in the classroom. And before that, as an undergraduate at Illinois State, he served the Redbird community as an Admissions Ambassador.
He now works as the Youth Services Manager for the City of Aurora. Her job is to work with various community partners to deliver programs to Aurora’s youth. It works on summer camps, after-school programs, an annual sports festival, youth resource fairs, City of Lights tournaments, a Youth Court program, the Aurora STEAM Academy, back-to-school fairs, the Aurora Youth Council, mentorship programs and Suite. His job satisfaction is quite high.
“Oh, sometimes there are no words to describe how rewarding and humbling it is to serve others,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve always served, and now serving in my hometown is very special. Like teaching, I can advocate for youth and families, but now that I work in municipal government, it’s on a larger scale. I love it.”
He helped pay for his education by joining the National Guard and received the Mark Wyman Scholarship through the Department of History. He was named the recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship, which, combined with some student loans, allowed him to study abroad in England and Mexico.
Rodriguez said he and his fellow panelists wanted students to know that their time at Illinois State played a huge role in shaping their current lives and successful careers. He recommended that students take advantage of all the resources available on campus and have high expectations for their future. Finally, he said that being connected to the state of Illinois in this way, especially during Latinx Heritage Month, was exciting for him.
“We’re still Redbirds, so coming back to campus to give back is a beautiful thing,” he said. “We are creating a new legacy.”