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Alumni Connection

Alex Padilla ‘94, president of the L.A. City Council, garners praise for his public service.
December 19, 2005

Alex Padilla ‘94 Has Returned to His Working-Class L.A. Neighborhood – And Made a Difference

Alex Padilla remembers waking up as a kid early on Saturday mornings to the sound of the phone ringing. “Sure, come pick him up,” his mother would say. While his friends slept in or watched cartoons, he says, “Some stranger would show up about 20 minutes later, and off I went to go plant trees, paint over graffiti, clean up alleyways, or volunteer at the park or the church.”

Looking back, Padilla suspects it was a strategy to keep him from getting into trouble in his working-class Los Angeles neighborhood. But those formative experiences instilled in him a passion for public service that sustains him today in his role as president of the L.A. City Council. It’s a big responsibility: with a population of 3.9 million people, the nation’s second-largest city is legendary for snarled traffic, high crime rates, and failing schools. But Padilla wouldn’t trade it for anything.

He didn’t set out to be a politician. His parents are Mexican immigrants–his father is a short-order cook and his mother is a housecleaner–and they stressed the importance of college. Padilla went to MIT to study mechanical engineering, intending to return to L.A. and find a job as an engineer, while helping improve his community as an avocation. Over the summers, he worked at Hughes Aircraft and realized engineering wasn’t his calling. “I enjoyed it; it was technically challenging but lacked the personal satisfaction that I got from community service,” he says.

After graduating, Padilla completed a public-affairs fellowship with the Coro Foundation, worked for U.S. senator Dianne Feinstein for a year, then worked for the California legislature. He was appointed in 1997 to the L.A. Building and Safety Commission. In 1999, at the tender age of 26, he was elected to represent the seventh district on the L.A. City Council. Two years later, Padilla was chosen to serve as president–the first Latino in that role in 130 years. Now in his third term as both member and president, he is still the youngest, as well as the longest-serving, council member.

There are plenty of challenges. Fixing housing shortages, creating jobs, investing in infrastructure, and balancing the city’s budget are all pressing issues. But the most problematic issues, Padilla believes, are education and public safety. L.A.’s public high schools have a dropout rate of 50 percent. Although crime is down overall, crime committed by and against young people is still a serious problem.

Padilla’s MIT background has been an asset in public service. “I get accused all the time of being very analytical and very methodical, and while that may be the exception in politics, it’s been very effective for me,” he says. It’s also helped him tackle technological issues on the job. And since MIT isn’t known for producing many politicians, it’s always a conversation starter.

Padilla also gives back to MIT. He has served as an educational counselor, recruiting promising students for MIT, and he keynoted the annual Alumni Leadership Conference in September, whose theme was “Celebrating Excellence.”

Padilla’s pursuit of excellence in public service has gained attention. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Padilla’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric, even in an age of rapid political turnover.” And Mark Dierking, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, says, “If you look at elected leaders twice his age, you don’t see the track record he’s developed in just six or seven years. I think his future is very bright.”

Accolades aside, giving back to the community is what makes Padilla’s job so meaningful. He’s particularly passionate about youth initiatives, and in October he will help break ground on a new $22 million children’s museum outside L.A. He’s been involved in rebuilding three libraries in his district–including one in Pacoima where he went as a child after school every day until his parents got off from work. Padilla recalls looking at the crowd at the ribbon cutting and seeing not just constituents but family, friends, neighbors, schoolmates, and Little League teammates. “It was as touching an experience as I’ve had.” – By Elizabeth Durant

Sloan Convocation Reconvenes on Campus, October 6-8

Graduates of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, who hold some of the most influential leadership positions in the world, are slated to attend Alumni Convocation 2005, a triennial gathering on campus. Sloan faculty, President Susan Hockfield, and prominent alumni leaders will discuss their visions for the future of global management and current management issues October 6-8.

Industry leaders will keynote, including Carly Fiorina, SM ‘89, former chair and CEO of Hewlett-Packard; John Thain ‘77, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange; and Morris Chang ‘52, SM ‘53, ME ‘55, chair and CEO of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, the world’s largest semiconductor foundry.

Fiorina held senior leadership positions at AT&T and Lucent Technologies before joining HP. Since leaving the company in February 2005, she has been appointed to the U.S. Space Commission by the White House. Thain was previously president and COO of Goldman Sachs Group and serves on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s International Capital Markets Advisory Committee. Chang has won numerous awards for his leadership in the semiconductor and microelectronics industries, much of it during his 25 years at Texas Instruments.

Convocation, established in the 1940s as a Sloan Fellows meeting, is now open to all Sloan alumni. This year marks two important milestones. The Sloan Fellowship Program, the world’s first executive development program, with more than 2,700 alumni worldwide, celebrates its 75th anniversary. Also, the Management of Technology Program, a joint Sloan-School of Engineering venture with 800 graduates and the first program to train top engineers and scientists to become business leaders, marks its 25th anniversary.

Learn more online:

Alumni Fund Posts Record-Breaking Dollars and Donors Year in 2005 

The MIT alumni Fund smashed records as fiscal year 2005 closed on June 30 as the strongest ever for both dollars and donors. Overall, Alumni Fund gifts totaled $33,527,830; the previous highest total was $33,065,675 in 2001. A record-breaking 32,010 donors made gifts, which broke the 2004 record of 31,205.

Parents and graduate alumni also set records with 2,269 parent donors giving $724,709. That handily beat the record set last year, when 2,191 donors contributed $596,381.

A total of 12,513 graduate alumni donated to the fund, surpassing the old record of 11,987, set in 2004.

“The Alumni Fund is a vital resource for MIT,” says fund director Monica Ellis ‘91. “The commitment and generosity of alumni, parents, and friends–this year and every year–keeps MIT world-class. We are extremely grateful for that support.”

MIT Is Coming to a City near You

Can’t schedule a trip to Cambridge? MIT offers many ways to interact with the Institute in cities nationwide. In San Francisco, MIT on the Road (MOTR) is featuring three faculty members who will discuss their cutting-edge research in a daylong event on October 29 at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill. Expand your knowledge and reconnect intellectually with MIT as you meet with fellow alumni, parents of current MIT students, and friends of MIT. Another MOTR program is scheduled for April 8, 2006, in Chicago.

The MIT Young Alumni Seminar Series provides panels on career-related topics and networking opportunities for alumni in the 10 most recent undergraduate classes and five most recent graduate classes. The year’s first event is scheduled for October 27 in Denver, the second for November 17 in Washington, DC. For more information, visit the Alumni Association’s Learning Web pages:

Haven’t met President Susan Hockfield yet? You can on October 20 in New York City at a reception hosted by the MIT Club of New York. For details, check the New York Club’s website:

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