"Protecting the Protectors" Alum blends career of security and service
Diego Rodriguez ’88SVC, ’90GEd has spent his entire career serving and protecting others: as a teacher, a Special Agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and now as Vice President of Security for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital (NYP). His parents, immigrants from Colombia, taught him the importance of service, and these values were only reinforced during his time at St. John’s University.
“St. John’s provided me with an excellent education, and helped me really see the value of service,” he recalled, emphasizing that the University is one of the most diverse institutions in the country, if not the world.
Mr. Rodriguez is a native of the Briarwood section of Queens, NY, so he was already aware of the gifts and talents of people from different backgrounds, but St. John’s was the place where he first collaborated with others in a meaningful way. “St. John’s really clarified for me the importance of working with people of diverse backgrounds to achieve a common goal.”
An Athletic Administration major, Mr. Rodriguez began his professional career teaching Spanish to middle school students in South Jamaica. Little did he know, his life’s path was about to take a turn. “I had a chance meeting with an FBI agent at a family function. He told me the bureau was looking to hire Spanish speakers and encouraged me to apply.”
While he enjoyed teaching and felt like he was making a real difference in the lives of his students—many of whom came from broken homes—Mr. Rodriguez took the written test for the FBI and was soon offered an opportunity tocontinue processing for a Special Agent position. “At the time, I really loved teaching, so I politely declined the offer,” he said.
By chance, he saw the same agent at another function soon after and told him he opted to forgo the opportunity. He received a look of stunned disappointment. “You know when you are a little kid, and your stomach goes into your throat because you know you made a bad decision? I thought, ‘What have I passed up?’”
The following Monday, Mr. Rodriguez put on his best suit and took the train to 26 Federal Plaza. He met with the recruiter he turned down, apologized profusely, and asked for a second chance. He got one—and it led to an enormously successful 26-year career in which he steadily rose through the ranks. Along the way, he served as a SWAT member, investigating drug-trafficking organizations from Latin America, and was subsequently drafted to serve in Puerto Rico because of a shortage of Spanish-speaking agents.
Soon, Mr. Rodriguez was approached for a management position, and he steadily rose through the ranks. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he started the first FBI counterterrorism task force in West Palm Beach, FL. A few years later, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed him the head of the Dallas, TX, office. After three years there, FBI Director James Comey appointed him Assistant Director of the New York Field Office, and he was only too happy to return to his “home turf.”
“I knew New York. I was raised there and had many contacts. It is my wheelhouse. You know you can provide a lot of value when you go somewhere you know.” Ironically, that last role with the FBI eventually helped him secure his position at NewYork-Presbyterian in 2018. “I am able to provide more value based on my experience,” he observed, adding that he is responsible for the security and emergency management for all of the hospitals across the NYP system.
NYP is one of the most comprehensive and highly rated health systems across the country, and in his words, Mr. Rodriguez “protects the protectors.” He has always admired the doctors, nurses, and all of those who work across the system; the pandemic has given him a newfound appreciation for their bravery and dedication.
“There has been so much compassion on display since this whole pandemic started,” Mr. Rodriguez stressed. “I noticed it as soon as I walked in the door. So much of what goes on here reminds me of being a public servant. People ask why I love my current position, and it is because I get to take care of those who are taking care of sick people. It does not get any better than this.” Mr. Rodriguez oversees more than 600 officers across the whole enterprise.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Mr. Rodriguez explained that his mission of protecting the hospital staff and patients has not changed. What has changed is how he gets that job done. “From a security standpoint, we have had to make adjustments.”
Flexibility and adaptability have been key, Mr. Rodriguez observed. Change has come rapidly, and as soon as executive orders were announced, he had to set the wheels in motion. “This was the first time for everybody. We had to develop strategies that worked specifically for our system.”
“I do not do this in a vacuum,” he added. “I work very closely with other internal departments and a wonderful staff who help me make good, informed decisions. We learned very quickly how to deal with a situation, and then we got into a rhythm.”
Today, Mr. Rodriguez is a member of The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies Advisory Board at St. John’s, and has been back many times to discuss career opportunities with students.
Attending St. John’s, Mr. Rodriguez explained, gave him an edge that has served him well throughout his career. “I believe we view things very differently because of our daily exposure to the diversity at St. John’s. The University provides students with the necessary tools to determine the best way to serve others through their careers. Working for the common good is really the bond that brings St. John’s together.”