“Not everyone can say that they have worked with someone,” says Sherri Lee-Lewis, Vice President of Human Resources, “and then watched them grow up right before their eyes.” This, she says, has been her distinct privilege in knowing and working with Human Resources Operations Analyst Delia Padilla for the past 25 years (Delia began her HR career as a secretary, and was promoted to specialist, then technician and subsequently, operations analyst. In 1991 she was hired as a student worker in EOPS, working alongside the late Natividad Vasquez and then also as a temporary employee in the Counseling department).
“I don’t know what I would do without her in HR,” says Sherri. “Delia is a rock star!” There were so many words used in connection with Delia—all in a very complimentary way—that here we will list only five descriptors: a phenomenal mom, extremely dependable, a problem solver, a thoughtful person, supportive . . . to a fault!
“When things get tough or overwhelming in HR, she is the first person to come forward to do whatever she can,” Sherri wrote. “No questions asked. And it has been her mission over the years to ensure that new employees have the best first impression of the college and an awesome on-boarding experience. She wants new hires to know what a great place this is to work. She brings such compassion to her job! I feel blessed to have her in my life.”
These sentiments—and the experience the editor of this newsletter has had over the years, witnessing first-hand Delia’s helpful, knowledgeable demeanor—led SMC in Focus to ask Delia Padilla if she would be willing to answer a few questions. The interview, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity, demonstrates many reasons why Delia is the rock star she is: driven, grateful, persevering, and above all, someone who believes in the community we call Santa Monica College.
We chatted about where 30-plus years at SMC has taken her, what gets her out of bed in the mornings, and a thing or two you may not know about Delia Padilla.
SMC in Focus: Looking back over the three decades you’ve been at SMC, tell us a little more – what were you studying, what are some of your favorite memories from over the years?
Delia: I went to public school—Santa Monica High School—and I was on track for not attending college. There were the kids that got to go to college, and the kids that “weren’t made to be at college”, that’s what the counselors told you at school. So, when I first enrolled at Santa Monica College, I cried when I got the acceptance letter because I thought I was being “accepted” to a college. I didn't know that everybody was able to come to Santa Monica College.
I started in the SMC Cosmetology Program; that’s when I started working as a student worker and began to see different opportunities, job security because, again, I wasn’t “college material.” I was just thinking, “What am I going to do with my life?” And if you weren’t college material, you were pushed towards what used to be called “vocational programs.” So that's really why I enrolled in the cosmetology program, which in the back of my mind, I still want to finish. I didn't finish all the hours required—those perms really got to me! I think I needed to do, like, three more perms. So I left the cosmetology program and started working as a temporary and others encouraged me to take tests, get on the eligibility list for jobs here at SMC. And that’s eventually how I went from being a part-time employee to a full-time one.
It's okay that I wasn't college material; that’s why I feel so grateful. I love my job and am so grateful for all the opportunities and benefits it’s been able to give me, and through which I have been able to provide for my kids, Sebastian, 20 (now an SMC student) and Daniel, 16, who is at Samohi.
SMC in Focus: It sounds like you were a local—tell us a little more about your childhood.
Delia: I grew up here in Santa Monica, on 11th and Michigan, went to Madison Elementary School (where The Broad Stage is now located), onward to John Adams Middle School and Samohi. I’m the second oldest of five. My mom and dad were neighbors in Santa Monica, and that’s where they met. I grew up next door to Carla Alvarado who works in the SMC Center for Students with Disabilities. My family owned the apartment complex where we lived, seven of us in a two-bedroom apartment but it didn't matter because we were in Santa Monica. Our backyard was the alley. The neighborhood kids would come and play in the alley, too, or we would walk to the beach. It was just very kid-friendly, everybody was everybody's friend . . . very much like a small town.
But it is still kind of the same way—where they would push certain kids to one side. My cousin was getting all these college brochures and we weren’t getting any. That is when I went to my school counselor and said, how come I am not getting any college brochures. He straight out said, “It’s because you’re not college material.”
SMC in Focus: That leaves me speechless. Based on everything you have accomplished, you are clearly college material, though you didn’t need a college education to get where you are. Speaking of your work, what is a day like in your work life as HR Analyst? What do you love about what you do?
Delia: We often joke in Human Resources that we are the resources for all humans because everybody tends to call Human Resources for all their needs. But I think we are truly the heart of the college for so many different reasons. We handle everything from benefits from employment to retirement. So it's a very rewarding job to say the least because you make things happen for people when they're getting employed here and then again when they're on their way out, when they're retiring.
As an HR analyst, my main focus is classified (non-teaching) employees. I handle the desk for the classified employees, anything that has to do with their employment or changes to it, but I'm also responsible for special projects, like building the salary schedules and our systems. We also work really closely with Payroll since we are the ones responsible for putting in the information to the system so people can get paid. It's a very busy department—we handle a little bit of everything, alongside other departments like the Personnel Commission.
SMC in Focus: You have stayed here for a couple decades. What do you love most about working here at SMC?
Delia: I honestly feel it's a very rewarding job—not only that the pay and security is good, but also that it is a service job. You are being of service to the [college] community, to people who want to work here. For example, I have talked to people who, when they first got hired, cry, crying because they're just so grateful for the package that we have here at Santa Monica College and then many stay five years, 10 years, 20 . . . you see that loyalty, people who stay here a long, long time because it is a community. Having people like Vice President of Human Resources Sherri Lee-Lewis, who started from “the bottom up” and look at where she is now. Same with Tre’Shawn Hallbaker, Dean of Human Resources. They are not intimidated to show you what they know, so that you, too, can grow and make yourself better. I love that.
SMC in Focus: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Delia: My job. I really, truly feel very loyal, very committed, and very grateful. So, I do love coming in here and getting up in the morning because the payback is that I get to provide for my two boys as a single mom, it's especially rewarding. I start my morning being very grateful, especially gratitude for who and what I have in my life… being grateful especially for my kids, my parents, my maternal grandparents and my abuelita Margarita (dad’s mom). They all keep me motivated and have all helped strengthen who I am today. In my family we have a saying; échale ganas y no te rajes (give it your all and don’t give up). This was an extremely important saying that truly has helped me through some difficult times and keeps me motivated to this day.
SMC in Focus: The pandemic made the work-life balance difficult for so many of us, especially that first year when we were mostly online. How did you manage your work-life balance and how have you continued to maintain that balance? And as a single mom, how did you manage to create some space for yourself?
Delia: Gosh, in the beginning it was very hectic. I wasn't able to come into the office much because I have asthma and at first I was completely remote. It was hard for me to “shut it down”—the convenience of being able to work long hours especially because at that time we were working on so many projects, and I was able to work whenever I needed to. It was okay because at the end of the day I was just so grateful that I wasn't affected by having to go out and expose myself. I am grateful I didn’t lose much income – we did get furloughed but not being able to go out caused me to save money. I went with whatever was thrown my way and we just made do.
The first apartment I’d found for me and my boys was a one-bedroom apartment; while we were remote, my workstation was in a corner of the living room, Daniel did his schoolwork in the dining room, and Sebastian was in the bedroom. As for balance—I probably neglected doing things for myself, but the fact that we all kept safe and (knock on wood) haven’t come down with Covid, it was okay. And later we were able to move and find a two-bedroom apartment, so I made that move during the pandemic!
SMC in Focus: What are a couple random facts that people who may know you in passing wouldn’t know about you?
Delia: One, is that I’m a beauty school dropout. Like I said, I couldn’t handle the perms but I am hoping to finish beauty school when I retire. My dream is to hopefully travel the world on a cruise ship and work in their beauty salon.
Another thing—I don’t like suspense. Yes anything with suspense makes me change the channel, even in commercials.
SMC in Focus: How do you relax when you have some time off?
Delia: Everything I've done so far really has revolved around my kids. I really don't have “me time”. I want to travel more and do more things. So this is it, I think I'm reaching that time in my life where we're able to do a little bit more. We took our first family trip to Hawaii so that was very nice, in November 2021.
SMC in Focus: Who or what has been a great influence in your life?
Delia: My family—from my ancestors who are no longer with us to my parents who are still with us.
My grandmother Margarita, who had also been a single mom, is 96 years old, and she raised 11 children, including my dad. Family, our values and morals. . . these are my biggest influences.
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