Patty Diaz was a first-generation college student who started school at a community college before transferring to NAU. Thirty years later, she’s still contributing to NAU’s excellence on the statewide level. Learn what Diaz, the director of Business and Educational Partnerships for NAU Online, has learned from a prestigious leadership seminar, what she thinks about while she’s running around Tucson at 4 a.m. and what competition she’s ready to tackle.
What brought you to NAU?
I gained valuable experiences at Pima Community College, where I pursued my interests in public speaking and business, before transferring to NAU. As the first of five children to pursue a college degree, I worked on campus to finance my education and found a sense of belonging through the amazing support of my supervisor and faculty. This ignited my passion for working in higher education. After graduation, I began my career at NAU and eventually moved to Tucson to work on developing the university’s statewide programs. I have been with NAU since 1992, and I am grateful to be part of the university’s evolving statewide system that provides access to students who are enrolling for the first time, transferring or returning to school after many years in the workforce.
Tell me about a typical day in your job.
I start my day in Tucson with an early 8-mile run at 4 a.m. During this time, I reflect on myself, my family and the day ahead. As the regional director for Southern Arizona’s Academic and Workforce Alliances, my focus is to establish and strengthen industry connections and identify degree programs to support workforce development within the region. This requires collaboration with partners such as community colleges, school districts, government and industry. I feel lucky to be part of a tight-knit group of regional directors who work in their own communities, where they’ve lived most of their lives, and build networks to help achieve the university’s goals of access to degree completion to strengthen the workforce and economy.
How did you get involved in the Southern Arizona Workforce Leadership Academy?
I learned about an opportunity with the Aspen Leadership Institute through my industry connections. The organization focuses on providing professional development for leaders to enhance economic mobility and develop innovative solutions for challenges faced by workers and businesses. I was honored to be selected to participate in the Southern Arizona Aspens’ Workforce Leadership Academy after a competitive application process. This year-long program involves workshops and retreats and brings together a diverse group of local leaders representing nonprofit organizations, business associations, higher education institutions and public agencies. I am excited about the program’s emphasis on collaborating to enhance local economic mobility and workforce development. In line with the program, I look forward to participating in a team capstone project that reflects the university’s goals, which will be determined in August.
What did you learn from your experience in the academy?
Having spent four months in the academy, I have come to appreciate the collaborative approach we take with like-minded individuals to identify solutions to the challenging issues in our own communities. It is inspiring to see how we are all committed to taking ideas and putting them into action for the success of our region and a shared vision.
Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.
I am thankful for my childhood friend Susan Lee. She always prioritized getting the best grades, and I followed her lead. Little did I know that this would lead us both to college. From kindergarten to high school, Susan and I were often placed together in our classes due to alphabetical seating arrangements, with her being Lee and me being Leon at the time. Without her guidance and support throughout our formative school years, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What have you been most proud of recently?
My husband and I are becoming empty nesters as our youngest child prepares for college. Our relationship with our children has changed, and we are now getting to know them as young adults.
We take the time to connect with each of our children individually, listening to their aspirations and admiring their hard work. It brings us great happiness to see their growth and the independent choices they make. Upon reflection, we have come to value the precious moments we share with our children the most. These moments fill us with pride and excitement for what the future holds for them.
What is your favorite way to spend a day off?
On my days off, you will find me spending time with my husband, Jaime. He is a junior high science teacher who puts in long hours after the workday preparing for the next day, so I value the time we have together. We share a love for the ‘80s and enjoy reliving that era by watching movies, listening to music and catching up with old friends. My husband and I are not as tuned in to social media as our kids are, but we get entertained by how some of the old is now new!
What are three things on your bucket list?
My bucket list item is to join “The Amazing Race.” I am a competitive person, and I believe that my husband or one of my kids could be my perfect teammate to win the game. I believe our winning strategy is clear communication and following directions. What can I say, I am a big fan of the show! Another thing I want to do is to experience a concert at the iconic Hollywood Bowl. I am a music lover, and I find it intriguing to watch an orchestra or a band and see how the different instruments blend to create music. Lastly, I was able to achieve one of my bucket list goals with the help of my family, NAU faculty and friends: I completed my doctorate degree.