July 2015

Staff Stories: Nicole Rodriguez, Environmental Health and Safety

by Joe Hinrichs

Nicole Rodriguez, Mason’s Occupational Health Coordinator in the Environmental Health and Safety Office (EHS), has worked to keep Mason healthy for the last four years. After finishing a bachelor’s degree in Community Health, she interned for EHS working on various data management and equipment inspection projects. Her impressive dedication to the work shined through when she interviewed in the same office for a full time position, which she has now held for three years.

“I really like it here,” said Rodriguez when describing all the opportunities the two positions have presented. She recounted stories of sitting in on meetings with Mason’s Institutional Biosafety Committee. Rodriguez’s supervisor wanted her to hear about the types of research being conducted throughout the university to understand why her work was so important.

Those discussions appealed to her “dorky side,” said Rodriguez. “I knew we had smart people working at Mason, but these were really smart people.”

Perhaps it was one of those early meetings that inspired her to enroll in Mason’s well-regarded Master of Public Health program. She concentrated in Epidemiology and completed her degree this past May, taking advantage of the staff tuition benefit that Mason’s Staff Senate has lobbied hard to maintain and expand over the last several years. By working with her supervisor, Rodriguez was also able to take advantage of flex scheduling, which helped her complete her degree’s required 200-hour practicum with the local health department.

“Without the staff tuition benefit and flex scheduling, I don’t think I could have gone back for an advanced degree so soon,” she said.

Shortly after graduation, Rodriguez used a mix of volunteer and vacation leave to spend ten days in rural Honduras, working alongside other medical and public health professionals providing care to low-income individuals. “It was humbling,” she said. “It took me a few days to get used to the environment, but it was very rewarding.”

In her normal job, she cares for the health and well-being of employees right here at Mason. She maintains the Medical Surveillance Program for researchers, Facilities Management, University Police, Student Health Services, and Mason Recreation. The program coordinates preventative medical services like screening tests and vaccinations for employees whose work exposes them to hazards — such as frequent loud noises at special events, blood, or infectious agents.

Rodriguez also manages Mason’s Ergonomics Program. This program is designed to help employees arrange their office furniture and equipment in ways that support healthy back posture and efficient space use to avoid injury. Sometimes that means adjusting workstation set-up, modifying work practices, using a better fitting chair or a differently shaped keyboard, or even a standing desk.

When asked about rewarding aspects of her job, Rodriguez shared stories of employees who were incredibly appreciative when she suggested changes to their office arrangements that relieved persistent pain and discomfort. “Sometimes they were in tears,” she said. “I’m grateful that Mason really invested in me to receive specialized training in ergonomics.”

It was a great investment, one that is now paying healthy dividends for the Mason community.

If you’d like to nominate staff members to have their work highlighted in an upcoming Mason Staff Senate Newsletter, please email us at with their contact details and a brief summary of what they do at Mason.