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Hello my name is: Laura Padilla-Pater

Race-car driver, two-time breast-cancer survivor, wannabe pilot and an original Roadrunner.

By Kristen Lotze

November 13, 2017

Laura Padilla-PaterFront Runner/ Accelerating Students through Concurrent ENrollmenT program coordinator Laura Padilla-Pater discusses her interesting history with the Auraria Campus, her love for what she does and her ambitions to fly helicopters someday.

Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Denver. I was actually born in the area of Auraria Campus and went to an elementary school close to there. My grandparents lived on Auraria Campus as it was being built ? we would attend church at St. Cajetan’s every Sunday (when it was still a real church). I have many memories of my grandmother telling me, “You’re going to attend college here [MSU Denver] someday.” It was still under construction at the time. It was always something in the back of her mind that she wanted for me, and now every time I pass by the church, I remember her – I have great memories of spending time there.

How long have you worked for MSU Denver?
Over half my life. I started in 1984, in the lowest position in the classified system. I was pretty much out of high school, and just working at MSU Denver gave me the idea, “Wow, I can do this too!” I really didn’t think I was college material until I started working there. A lot of my issue was money; my family really just wanted me to graduate high school and go to work. MSU Denver offered tuition reimbursement to employees – they paid for three credit hours. I started classes as soon as I could. I began by building my English and writing skills with a remedial course, and then I started taking more classes. I worked doing data entry in Admissions, then moved to Records, Registration … I just kept moving up the classified system while still taking classes. My experiences at MSU Denver gave me the confidence I needed to believe in myself and realize that college was a possibility for me.

How did you become the coordinator of the Front Runners/ASCENT program?
I graduated college in 1994 and landed a position as an associate director in Letters, Arts & Sciences, the advising center at MSU Denver. I worked in that position for several years. Then I moved to CU Health Science Center and worked as assistant director of the Admissions department in the School of Nursing. After that, I had a child, worked part-time and focused on raising my kids for a while. Then I came back to the extended (South) campus in a temporary position and started working for the concurrent-enrollment program. From there, they created a position for me to continue my work and recruit for the program.

How many students currently participate in the Front Runners/ASCENT program? Why is the program important?
There are approximately 240 students in the Front Runners program and 42 in the ASCENT program. We are currently partnering with 24 schools in the Colorado area, including schools in Windsor, Summit and Colorado Springs.

One of the Front Runner programs that I’m really proud of is the Spanish minor we offer through Abraham Lincoln High School, which is about 95 percent Latino/Spanish-speaking. We are currently the only school that’s offering a program like this. It’s difficult to get students from predominantly Spanish-speaking schools into concurrent classes because they’re expected to be at a different skill level. With this program, we’re able to offer a 21-hour minor to these students, which will benefit them at MSU Denver – they’ll have a complete minor done, which gives them a better foundation to start from. Many of these students need a little assistance because they don’t fit into a certain “mold,” and I’m proud to be able to offer this opportunity to them.I think the Front Runners program is exceptionally important because it offers high school students the opportunity to take college credits in their own, safe environment with a teacher they already know. Most of the time, they don’t have to set foot on campus, except maybe for a tour. The program just gives them the extra comfort of being in their own environment while earning college credits. Also, the cost is much more affordable. A lot of districts pay for the classes for students so many don’t have to pay much, if anything at all. I just think it’s such a wonderful program overall. 

You originally got your degree in criminal justice. Do you feel that education has been helpful in your current role at all? If so, how?
My original goal was to go into airport/cargo security; this is around the time when Denver International Airport was being built. I did work at DIA for a while, but it was very competitive, and I had to contend with men who had been in the military, which I could not do. I also had a part-time job at MSU Denver in the advising center at the time, and I seemed to gravitate more toward that job because that’s where my experience was (and the pay was higher).
Advising was one of my favorite jobs there – I loved seeing students graduating and being successful. I think everything builds us into the person we are, so getting my criminal-justice degree helped me in learning about higher education and the processes and procedures involved in getting where I wanted to be. I wouldn’t have been able to get to the level I have in higher education without a bachelor’s degree, so this is where it took me.

What are your plans and goals?
My future goal is to build the Front Runners program and make it automated so we’re able to offer everything online, like other colleges do. I also want to continue to add unique classes. I don’t want to just offer general studies; I want to have more interesting courses like Food Fundamentals in Hospitality and Travel, Beginning Aviation, Mechanical Engineering, etc. My goal is to grow and create more classes like those as well as bring more students into a hands-on type of schooling here.

If you could do anything else, what would it be? Why?
I would be a helicopter pilot or go into aviation. Or a race-car driver. I would love to do both. I love planes and would enjoy getting my pilot’s license. I started working toward my pilot’s license at one point, but it was very expensive, so I got a few hours of flight time but ultimately had to withdraw from the program.

I also used to race cars. My dad is a mechanic, and we would race cars together. I owned a Ford Mustang, raced Novas and did a lot of racing at Bandimere (Speedway).

What is something people might not know about you?
That I’m a breast-cancer survivor. I was diagnosed twice; 2006 was the last time. I’m going on 11 years in remission!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the MSU Denver community?
I just have this love for MSU Denver because it offers a chance to everyone to get a college degree. You don’t have to be the “traditional student.” You can still go to work, have your life and go to school and have a college career as well. It’s always dear to my heart.

Also, I was a Roadrunner when there was still a road to run across. Colfax used to come down in between the student center, and we would have to literally run across the street to get lunch! The cars would start at the top of the hill, and the traffic light was at the bottom, so we would get across as fast as we could. I like to think I was a Roadrunner since Day One.


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