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Thursday, August 11, 2022

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Stories of Leadership: Denise Z. Price

Price is the executive director of the Retired Employees of San Diego County.

Denise Z. Price graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in public administration in 1989. Price returned to the Mesa to complete a master's degree in public administration in 2003. 

She is currently the executive director of the Retired Employees of San Diego County.

Tell us the highlights of your professional career.  What are your proudest achievements?

Denise Z. Price
Denise Z. Price
I was encouraged to attend SDSU by an art teacher at my high school who was a SDSU alumnus and was pleased to be accepted as an art major through the EOP program. After taking an urban planning class I realized art was not my calling and I immediately changed my major.

Upon graduating, and thanks to a fellow SDSU student and American Society for Public Administrators member, I received an internship at SANDAG.  After that I got a job with the San Diego City Planning Department overseeing an area which included the College Area. In that particular position I wasn’t able to follow my idealism and desire for change, so I got a job as a member of State Assemblymember’s Mike Gotch's staff. 

I continued to be on staff for several other high profile representatives including: Antonio Villaraigosa, Valerie Stallings and Toni Atkins. After taking a break in my employment to help my children through the maze of high school and college, I took my current position with the Retired Employees of San Diego County.

What is your favorite college memory?

I remember many meetings with student chapter groups – like the American Society for Public Administrators and Pi Alpha Alpha, the National Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration.

Who was your favorite professor and/or what was your favorite class?

Glen W. Sparrow was one of the professors I remember. His passion for government inspired me and I felt he was very accessible to his students. I appreciated the fact that so many of my instructors were working in the field of public affairs so they had real world knowledge they applied to class. 

One of the classes I remember and enjoyed most was labor negotiations; it was such an eye opening class. The principles and techniques I learned in that class have been instrumental in my professional success the last ten years.

If you were to give current SDSU students some advice, what would you say?

Get involved with clubs and professional organizations to create your own network of people. Do an internship; it helps you to move into your career path. Work with your network to open up opportunities and appreciate where you are at.

What are you currently reading?  What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. It is a reminder to me that for many around the world, America is a destination and people will do almost anything to get here and withstand almost anything to stay here. For me, as the granddaughter of immigrants, it’s the reality of their sacrifices that propels me forward.

I’m currently reading "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America." It talks about how minimum wage is not really minimum; because of the cost of everything it is more like “below minimum.”

What is your passion?

My children are my biggest passion; but making change through public service is a close second. When asked, most people don’t have anything good to say about government.  In fact, they love to vilify it.  But when I think of government, I think of those on the “front line:” soldiers, police officers, firefighters and teachers. These are people that dedicate their lives to protecting and serving. There are others of us behind the scenes, like analysts and program managers, equally committed to governing and serving the public good. Our commonality is our idealism and commitment; it’s what makes government work.  

What is your motto?

Follow your heart; to thy own self be true; be proud of who you are and what you do; and embrace diversity.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings?

I would like to start a non-profit organization that helps kids move out of the foster system and keeps them out of juvenile detention and off the street.

Any other thoughts?  

I found a place in the Professional Studies and Fine Arts building; it changed my life. I’m very fond of that basement! I looked forward to my classes there and would often find myself spending most of my free time there. If I wasn’t studying, I was working on projects with other classmates, or looking for a professor to discuss current events with. I miss those debates!