Diego Silva leaves position as associate director of student life

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Diego Silva Courtesy of Occidental College/The Occidental

Associate Director of Student Life Diego Silva will be leaving his position Nov. 14. Silva said that he has accepted a job at Rio Hondo Community College, where he will act as the coordinator of the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program, a public assistance program funded by the state.

Silva’s decision follows several other changes in the Office of Student Life (OSL), including former Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Student Life Tamara Himmelstein’s departure from the OSL Nov. 12 and the hiring of Victor Kerney as the college’s new associate director of orientation and student success Nov. 5. Assistant Dean for Community Engagement Ella Turenne also announced via email Nov. 7 that the Office of Student Life and the Office for Community Engagement will be merged together under one center.

Silva joined Occidental nearly six years ago. While at Occidental, he has been responsible for the management of Greek life, OxyEngage, programming board and the Green Bean. Silva was also the chair of the Campus Events Advisory Committee and co-chair of the Administrator & Staff Council, according to the commitees’ webpages. Silva said that he had been thinking about his future in student affairs and has been interested in working with community college students for about a year. He applied for the position at Rio Hondo College over the summer and received an official offer in the fall.

“I was not in a hurry to leave Oxy. I like what I do here, and I like my coworkers. I like the environment, but in the world of education, we move around a lot,” Silva said. “Being a first-generation college student, I came from a low-income household myself, so I have a lot of characteristics that somewhat mirror community college students, so I’d like to try it out.”

Himmelstein said via email that Silva had shared his interest in working with the community college student population while he was applying for the position at Rio Hondo College.

“Diego told me that he has had a longtime interest in working at a community college and focusing on higher education access and opportunity efforts,” Himmelstein said.

In his new position at Rio Hondo College, Silva said that he will be assisting students who qualify for state aid to attend higher education programs through CalWORKs. The students in the program are either parents or primary caregivers working to obtain their degrees, Silva said.

“I will be the representative at Rio Hondo College who does intake, orientation, education plans and life skills workshops. Basically, getting them to an associate’s degree or getting them transferred to a four-year college,” Silva said.

OSL Programming Assistant (PA) Jona Yadidi (sophomore) said that Silva helped her and the other PAs organize clubs and student-led events.

“I’m super upset to see him go as he always brings a positive attitude to the office and is a great resource when planning events, but I know he’s going on to do bigger and better things,” Yadidi said. “The OSL is going through a transitional period right now to continue to progress as a functional space for the school, and I’m excited to be a part of that for the remainder of the year.”

With the staff changes in the OSL, Silva said that he is currently working to create a timeline for the upcoming semester for his replacement to use.

“The timeline would be for Greek life, Oxy Engage, trip leaders,” Silva said. “In the spring semester, we do recruitment for Greek life. SpringFest is a really big event and we deal with a lot of third-party businesses, so I have to make sure everybody knows everybody who is going to be in charge for the interim.”

According to Himmelstein, the college has not yet hired anyone to replace Silva. Silva said that the OSL is working alongside Dean of Students Rob Flot to screen and interview candidates.

“I think whenever there is a vacancy in an office, there are impacts, both positive and negative,” Himmelstein said. “On the positive, I think it allows an opportunity to really examine the office structure and purpose and to re-examine student needs and make changes to reflect such needs. On the negative, it does create a period of uncertainty, which can create anxiety among those most closely associated with the office.”

Himmelstein also said that the staff changes are a matter of timing and not a reflection that something is wrong with the OSL.

“For each departure, it was for reasons of professional staff members moving on in their professional careers and not a reflection of any kind of dissatisfaction with their work in OSL,” Himmelstein said.

According to Silva, the college is taking the staff departures as an opportunity to redefine job criteria and create new structures within the office so that the OSL’s work can better reflect the college’s mission and the needs of the students.

“I definitely have enjoyed my time at Occidental,” Silva said. “I feel like I gained a lot, grew a lot. I learned a lot, and I hope that people thought I gave a lot back to the college. We’ll see what the future may bring. I know that I’m leaving on really good terms, and I’m going to miss my coworkers and especially the students. I’m sure we’ll all cross paths sometime in the future.”