Anthony Rodriguez heard the familiar chime. An Uber passenger was waiting for a ride at FIU. He pulled up in front of the university’s Wertheim Conservatory in his leased blue Toyota Camry for Amir A. Khoddamzadeh.
The passenger hopped in, and the small talk began. How are you? Is the temperature ok? What do you do for a living?
The passenger was a professor at FIU. He was helping to launch a horticulture program. For 15 minutes, Khoddamzadeh spoke with Rodriguez about the program, which was only a year old at that time. Rodriguez was intrigued to learn he had a new opportunity to earn a degree in agriculture and do it so close to home. As they arrived at Khoddamzadeh’s destination, Khoddamzadeh gave the driver his business card, something he often does. They parted ways, but the conversation stayed with Rodriguez. This was in 2016.
The following year, he turned in the keys to his Uber-leased vehicle, left his job as a driver, and became a student at FIU.
Born and raised in Miami-Dade County’s Redlands, Rodriguez was always captivated by agriculture, so much so that he was in the agri-science program at South Dade Senior High School. Upon graduating at 17, he moved to Gainesville, Fla. and earned his associate degree at Santa Fe College. While Rodriguez intended to continue his education, life had other plans. He returned home to help his mother who had lived alone since his father passed away several years prior.
“I still had school on my mind. I had my AA degree, but I felt like it was still unfinished,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t have anything to back my agriculture experience. I wanted to become more established and build my resources back up. FIU seemed very appealing, and Dr. Amir made it seem possible.”
The next time Rodriguez remembers seeing Khoddamzadeh was in his Horticulture 1 class. On the first day, students took turns introducing themselves. When Rodriguez spoke, Khoddamzadeh remembered him.
Rodriguez recalls him saying, “I know you. I remember you.”
Throughout his time at FIU, Rodriguez would wake up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus from Cutler Ridge to Flagler and walk to campus. He maintained a full class schedule and worked full-time as a bartender at the on-campus hotspot: Chili’s Too — often working overtime, logging as many as 56 hours a week. In 2021, Rodriguez was hired as an Urban Horticulture Program Specialist for the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension Miami-Dade Urban Horticulture Program, where he provides knowledge and education to the community on landscaping, irrigation and bees.
Rodriguez is working at the Landscape Irrigating Rebate Program, a countywide effort to reduce water-use and improve efficiency. Rodriguez and Khoddamzadeh serve on Miami-Dade County’s Urban Horticulture Program Advisory Board.
“That’s the ultimate goal we want for our students – a job with USDA, federal agencies or a county/state agency,” Khoddamzadeh said. “We currently have at least 10 students from the Agroecology Program working full time at UF/IFAS, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, USDA ARS Subtropical Horticultural Research Station, Montgomery Botanic Center, Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, and local nurseries and farms in South Florida to name, a few which is remarkable.”
Rodriguez was one of more than 6,000 graduates celebrating their accomplishments this past Spring 2023 commencement, earning a bachelor’s in Sustainability and the Environment. The 31-year-old continues to help his mother at home and his work with the extension office continues. Equipped with his FIU degree, today he’s just enjoying the ride.