KANSAS, Mo. — At the age of 24, Alfredo Rodriguez moved from Bogotá, Colombia, to the U.S. to start a whirlwind adventure that would take him around the country and lead him full circle to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District, as a civil engineer working in water management.
Rodriguez moved to Overland Park, Kansas, from Colombia in 1985 to live with his parents. He arrived with three things — knowledge of a few English words, a civil engineering degree from the Colombian School of Engineering Julio Garavito and the desire to make a life for himself in the U.S.
Rodriguez lived in Kansas for around five months before moving to Texas. During those five months, he had to learn English. His first step was to attend language classes at a local college.
“Then, I took a job at a grocery store packing bags. My only purpose for doing that, even though I already had a civil engineering degree, was to learn English,” Rodriguez said. “When they teach it in school, you learn the proper English, and then you go to the street, and talk to people and all that goes out the window and then you [actually] learn.”
When he got to Texas, he discovered his love for water after his brother, who has a master’s degree and Ph.D. in water resources, introduced him to reservoirs. He liked it so much that he got his master’s degree in water resources from the University of Texas and started his professional journey.
From 1993 to 2015, Rodriguez held engineering positions in Texas and Colorado, working for state and city governments, as well as private consultants. He also learned about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
“I didn’t know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers existed, until I started working for the water development board in Texas,” Rodriguez said.
He partnered with USACE during his time with the board and learned how they operated and maintained reservoirs in the region. This piqued his interest.
“There are things you love to do and things you like to do. I like to do [engineer] modeling, but I love to do flood operations, flood risk management and reservoir management,” he said.
So, he looked for a job where he could do those things and got his first job in USACE with the Walla Walla District in Washington state in March 2015.
Rodriguez stayed with the Walla Walla District for six years before he traveled back to Kansas to work for the Kansas City District in March 2021.
In his seven years with USACE, he’s met people and had experiences that stuck with him.
“USACE is one of the best organizations. It gives you opportunities to move within the organization itself and it gives you the chance to volunteer when disasters happen, which is unfortunate but also so rewarding because you get to know other people and places. You get to learn [just] how different cultures are,” Rodriguez said.
According to Rodriguez, he doesn’t think he would have the same experiences if he stayed in Colombia.
“What is neat about the U.S. is it’s given me the opportunity to move to Texas, Colorado, [Washington State], and then back to Kansas, all for jobs,” Rodriguez said. “That opportunity does not exist in Colombia. It is very rare … because of the economy, the politics and security of the country. Here [in the U.S.], opportunities are abundant, and I love this country.”
Though he loves his life in the U.S., he never forgets where he is from and celebrates his heritage by sharing it with others.
“I’ve been lucky enough to take the best of both of my worlds and make it the best for me — I will never forget my roots,’ said Rodriguez.