UI Alumna Identifies Mentoring as the Door to her Professional Accomplishments

Jessica Padilla


Jessica Padilla says mentorship shouldn’t be a stroke of luck or a rare find for students—instead, it should be part of the University of Iowa’s fabric. Now as the new coordinator of the Iowa National Education for Women’s (NEW) Leadership (INL) program, she has the opportunity to help be a strong influence in students’ lives at her alma mater. 

INL, housed under the Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC), is an intensive five-day residential institute designed to empower women across the political spectrum and increase the participation of underrepresented groups in all sectors of public leadership. 

Padilla, an INL alumna, earned a BA in International Studies and Spanish while also earning the Critical Cultural Competence Certificate from the UI in 2014. She also currently serves as the intake advisor for the Alpha Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority Inc., is an active participant the Greater Des Moines Latina Leadership Initiative, and is a member of the alumni engagement subcommittee in the Iowa Edge Planning Committee. 

After completing her MEd in student affairs and Certificate in Education for Social Justice at Iowa State University, she’s returned to Iowa City and now says she’s one step closer toward fulfilling her journey of refueling the communities that once gave her energy and support. 

She recently reflected on her experiences of mentorship and leadership with Diversity at Iowa. 

Q. You graduated from the Iowa NEW Leadership program, and now you’re leading the program this year. Can you share what you are most looking forward to in your new position? 

A. The ability to connect with students who want to make a difference. With INL we are trying to create a pipeline of women who can become public leaders in nonprofits, and in the political civic community. I love that I am responsible for creating opportunities for students to engage, learn from, and connect with other women leaders. I make a conscious effort to ensure that those panelists or speakers in the program reflect the identity of our student participants. Representation matters. 

Q. According to Gallup’s Strengths Quest your five strengths are Restorative, Woo, Includer, Input, and Belief. Which one of those challenge you the most? 

A. Restorative. I am someone who thinks that I can help one way or another, and I have to remind myself that I cannot do it all. I had a mentor who once told me, “You can do anything, but not everything.” Change makers have to remind themselves that self-care is important if you are to be capable of contributing long-term.  

Q. Can you share one notable memory from undergraduate experience that helped you develop your leadership or activism?

A. One memory that comes to mind is when I met Rusty Barceló, founder of Latino Native American Cultural Center (LNACC), at the center’s 35th anniversary celebration. The event challenged me to think about what I knew, what I did not, what I learned, and what I did not about my latino identidad, our histories, and the activism it took to get the cultural center. That dialogue fueled my leadership role in Latino organizations. It is easy to get lost navigating college as a first-generation Latina. I want to be able to be that support for somebody.

Q. What’s one piece of advice for undergraduate students?  

A. Do not close the door for yourself. Apply for that internship, that campus job, or run for student government. There are different ways to challenge yourself and this is the time to do it. There are so many ways to get involved. For me, working with the Center for Diversity and Enrichment, helping out with the Iowa First Nations program, and Iowa Edge allowed me to find those mentors who helped me along my career.

information icon
Gallup Strengths - People exceptionally talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.