Padilla accepts role to help underserved
Former HSI/STEM manager vows to keep building 'bridges'
April 18, 2017
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Fueled by a passionate commitment to student success, her work as the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) manager has helped underprepared students achieve their career goals.
Former HSI STEM Manager Mayra Padilla was chosen, from four finalists, as Contra Costa College’s dean of equity and institutional effectiveness in March.
She will create and review cohorts of students moving through CCC to help the college figure out which demographics of students need the most help and in which areas of study.
“It is important for me to do the work because I think that education is an economic leveler,” she said, “meaning that it allows people who grow up poor to access jobs that are high paying. From that perspective education is really important.”
College President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said she was excited to see who among the candidates would be the best fit for the position, until she came upon Padilla’s application.
“It became extremely clear that we already had someone (on campus) who is the perfect match for this particular position,” Mehdizadeh said.
After the unanimous decision by the hiring committee, the candidate was chosen.
“Dr. Mayra Padilla was precisely what this college needs to continue to move us in the direction of improved institutional effectiveness,” she said.
“(Padilla) is a member of this community — she is from the city of Richmond,” Mehdizadeh said. “She is a graduate of Richmond High School, a former Comet herself and an incredibly accomplished woman with a Ph.D. in neuroscience.”
Her background in scientific research is also an element that made her stand out as a candidate and a professional in her craft, she said.
METAS program instructional assistant Walter Orellana said because of Padilla’s science background she has a better understanding of what the students she serves need in order to be successful.
“She is the kind of leader that I strive to become one day,” Orellana said. “She is always going beyond what is asked of her.”
When he first met Padilla, Orellana was in eighth grade.
“That was 13 years ago now,” he said. “But for as long as I can remember she is someone that I looked up to. But everyone who was part of METAS did as well.”
When working in her new role as equity dean, Padilla said she will look for ways to “tweak” the way educators interact with students to better support students.
Using data and research, Padilla can figure out the areas students need support and begin to do work internally on how to better support and motivate them to stay enrolled or to do better in their courses.
She said the equity piece of her role says “Let’s look at groups based on ethnicity, to see how they are doing differently on different measures.”
“Are we, at the college, representing the community?”
When broken up by demographics, Padilla said there are more Latinos in the community than there are enrolled here at CCC.
“(For example) let’s say the West Contra Costa Unified School District has 60 percent Latino students and we only have 42 percent. There is a gap between the number of outgoing seniors and the number of incoming freshman (for that group),” she said.
“You start to get a better sense of what kinds of support different populations need,” she said.
Mehdizadeh said every decision at the college is examined through a lens of equity.
“It made sense to include that lens in the title so it’s always in the forefront of our conversations, thus (the title) dean of institutional effectiveness and equity,” Mehdizadeh said.
Padilla said the difference between equity and equality can be examined through real world problems.
Imagine equality and equity as two babies and each gets one bottle of water. But one baby is hungry and the other is thirsty, she said.
“If you give each baby a water bottle you’re only going to have one baby that is happy and satisfied,” she said. “And if you give a bottle of water to the baby that is hungry it is more than likely you will not satisfy (the baby’s need). They will be hungry and eventually will cry, and they will need something more.”
She said equity means looking at what each baby needs to give what will improve both of their conditions.
“You give one water, who is asking for water, and you give the other food,” Padilla said.
Padilla said part of the problem is that there is a social structure that values equality, but equality has yet to be achieved across all institutions — especially education.
“We are saying that there isn’t equality in our social structure and if there isn’t equality we have to work with an equity framework because different people are coming in with different opportunities.”
“For me, this job is a way of pushing that work to the next level,” Padilla said. “If we can embed an understanding of what equity is then we can have measures to keep people accountable — and that I think is a step in the right direction.”
Mehdizadeh said, “Her focus here at the college for many years is the focus that we want to expand upon collegewide, and she has the leadership skills to make that happen.”
HSI STEM Coordinator Kelly Ramos said Padilla is passionate about her students and her community, and she strives to develop ways to support them.
Ramos said she has worked with Padilla since Padilla was working on smaller projects around campus while being HSI STEM manager since 2011.
“I’m inspired by her leadership,” she said. “It makes you want to work harder — Mayra is really empowering.
“I think when she is working with our team she really uplifts the group and really helps (you) discover your strengths,” she said. “She helps develop you as a person.”
Padilla’s role as a leader inspires and instills positive energy for her team, she added.
“If you expect your team to work hard and produce you have to lead by example. (Padilla) leads by example,” Ramos said. “She makes me want to work for her. She makes me feel like I am making a difference for students and that we’re appreciated.”
Senior Administrative Assistant Jonathan Lee said, “Nobody empowers their own staff like Mayra has done during the time I have known her.”
Lee said Padilla trusts her staff with complex tasks, and she has created a work environment that makes each person feel like a valuable member of a family while also pushing them to improve their professional development.
Mehdizadeh said Padilla is connected to students throughout the campus and knows information about them and their families not many other people do.
“It is a real hallmark of this college,” she said. “We have individuals who are really passionate and care about individual students.
“That is recognized by students who will carry these memories they have of people at the college who helped them. It may drive them to come back and serve too,” Mehdizadeh said.