LAS VEGAS, NM – Dan Padilla knows how Highlands University transforms lives. He is living proof.
“It’s enriched me in the knowledge that there’s a lot out there for anyone who has a dream or desire to do something,” said Padilla, whom Gov. Suzanna Martinez named as a recess appointment to the Highlands Board of Regents.
“Attending Highlands has impacted my life, defined who I am, and has inspired me to impact kids to continue their education.”
Padilla retired as the principal of Los Lunas High School last June, concluding his formal 25-year career in education. Since his retirement, Padilla is back in the classroom as a science education instructor for Mescalero Apache Schools.
“One of the things that’s big for me is to transition kids to higher education,” said Padilla, who earned an associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree from New Mexico Highlands. “I’ve always felt that education has allowed me to be a part of something bigger.”
Padilla said his career in secondary education will bring an important viewpoint to the university’s Board of Regents.
“I feel I can bring perspective on how we recruit students to the university,” he said.
As the first person in his family to graduate college, Padilla said he knows the challenges many current first-generation students face when they attend college and wants to be an advocate for their success.
“The staff, my adviser, and all of the faculty had an interest in my career,” Padilla said. “It created a pathway for what I have accomplished during my career. I used the interest that was shown to help my children in their careers.”
Padilla said when he was a high school student in Socorro, New Mexico, the idea of attending college seemed remote. That was before his high school counselor, Joe Ulibarri, a Las Vegas native, took Padilla and one of Padilla’s friends to Highlands.
“Mr. Ulibarri’s encouragement and interest in me motivated me to continue my education and choose Highlands University,” Padilla said. “I am proud of being a part of many Highlands graduates who have had successful careers.”
“Had it not been for someone like Mr. Ulibarri taking an interest in me, I’m not sure what my career pathway would have been,” said Padilla, who noted everyone he had the opportunity to meet at Highlands has had a successful career.
“Every student experiences his or her own struggle. The job of educators is to help them overcome and persevere,” Padilla said. “To me, it’s wonderful to see when those kids graduate and how the Highlands experience will impact their lives.”
Highlands President Sam Minner said he is looking forward to working with Padilla.
“When Mr. Padilla retired, he told a reporter at the Valencia County News-Bulletin, ‘I’ve always told kids, and I’ve always told everyone, that regardless of what you do in your job, no matter where you’re at, you want to live a fulfilling life;’ a sentiment in which I wholeheartedly agree,” Minner said.
Before Padilla’s tenure as Los Lunas High School principal, he served as the athletic director for Pecos School district and principal of Pecos Middle School, and several roles at Socorro High School including principal, vice-principal, and athletic director. He has served on several educational boards and committees including the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Administrators/Leaders and has been a 10-year member of AdvancED New Mexico State Council.
“I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Regents, especially since it’s the university I graduated from,” Padilla said. “I feel like my experience with AdvancED would be able to help the university with accreditations and reviews.”
I’m looking forward to working as a Board of Regents member and paying it forward,” Padilla said.
“My passion is about building kids who have respect and confidence,” Padilla said. “Anyone can do anything, any time, as long as they put their hearts into it.”