Danny Santos, who earned his bachelor’s degree in criminology at SOU in 1975, always had a passion for service. But he credits SOU – Southern Oregon College at that time – with providing him the tools and opportunities to chart and navigate a career path that focused on helping others.
“Southern Oregon College was a wonderful place to grow up and mature,” Santos said. “It gave me so many academic and employment opportunities.”
Santos is currently serving his second four-year term on the SOU Board of Trustees.
He was raised in California’s Imperial Valley, where his father was his hometown’s first Latino police officer, and his parents instilled in him the value of hard work and education.
“We would spend our summer vacations working in the fields. We would work the Imperial Valley and move north to the San Joaquin as it got hotter, but we would always get back home in time for school,” he said. “Education was the priority.”
Santos said he chose SOC because he had a friend who was attending, and the school was so welcoming. While surprised by the lack of diversity at the college, he was also heartened by the support he received from instructors and administrators.
“Going to SOC was one of the best decisions of my life,” he said. “The instructors were supportive and encouraged me to try so many new things. It is really nice to have someone say, ‘You can do more.’”
Encouraging others and championing the underserved is something Santos has modeled throughout his career. After graduating, he became interested in education and working with migrant students. He returned to SOU to pursue a teaching certificate and eventually helped launch a migrant education program in southern Oregon. Later, while working in Salem as director of the Oregon Migrant Education Service Center, Santos served as a citizen lobbyist, meeting lawyers and government employees. That work inspired him to study law.
Always advocating for diversity and inclusion, he focused his legal career on social justice and public interest issues. He was eventually appointed associate dean for student affairs at his law school alma mater, Willamette University College of Law, and retired from that position in 2019.
Santos has compiled a long and accomplished resume with a very consistent theme: service to the state of Oregon and to the people with the most need. He was a senior policy advisor for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and also worked in the administrations of Governors John Kitzhaber, Barbara Roberts and Neil Goldschmidt, clocking more than 24 years of distinguished public service along the way.
The recipient of numerous awards for his work and generosity, Santos is a founding member of Scholarships for Oregon Latinos. He has supervised the Oregon Migrant Education Service Center and directed the Jackson County Migrant Education Program. He also currently serves on the SOU Board of Trustees and on the boards of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Mid-Valley Literacy Council.
Santos urges prospective college students to get involved in activities both in and out of school, and to find opportunities to be of service. “Young people have so much potential to bring a new vision to things,” he said. “I tell students, don’t just do well, do good.”
While at SOC, Santos took his instructors’ advice to get involved in a variety of activities and he dove into all that southern Oregon had to offer, joining community organizations, taking classes outside his major and working as a residence assistant (RA) and head resident (HR) in housing. “Being an RA and HR taught me a lot,” he said. “I learned how to deal with difficulties, and I learned how to listen.”
Santos said he still marvels at how every step in his career can be traced to the support and connections he had at SOU.
“So much education is outside of the classroom, the people you meet and the community you live in,” he said. “I still think of that. You never know where an experience will take you.”
Shared and updated from the spring 2019 issue of The Raider, SOU’s alumni magazine