Daniel Newell is a force to be reckoned with. Ohlone’s Director of Career Services and Industry Relations knows his stuff and that’s not just because he studied hard and is applying the knowledge he learned in the classroom. Newell shares with us how the school of hard knocks taught him some of life’s most valuable lessons and how it shaped his identity.
I am one of five children, placing me as the second youngest, and I'm an uncle to about 25 nieces and nephews. Having come from a large family, I have always been focused on creating a pathway for my nieces and nephews to higher education. Being a first-generation college graduate, I have always worked full-time while pursuing my college education. I moved out on my own at age 17 while attending continuation high school. I worked during the day and did my independent studies in the evening and weekends.
Having worked since I was 10 years old cleaning houses with my mother and doing construction with my father, I knew that higher education was the key to economic empowerment and mobility. This is why I placed education as a priority and worked tirelessly to set an example for my family.
In addition to tackling the challenges of being the first person in my family to pursue a college education while finding solutions to afford the cost of living, during my adolescent years, I was also coming to terms with overcoming an ongoing disability, while also identifying as being a gay male. This characteristic presented many challenges during my professional growth and development. Although identifying as LGBTQ was challenging, being a feminine gay male presented additional barriers, and often times my interactions with others challenged my confidence and self-respect.
Growing up as a feminine gay male attracted much unwanted attention from people in school and even at work. From having lit cigarettes thrown at me to unopened soda cans hurled at me and my partner, to being chased down by a car while on foot, name-calling and even being told that people like me are better off dead. These types of interactions challenge a growing student and can question his self-worth and comfort level within his own skin.
There was an actual moment that I recall having a life-changing perspective. I recall telling myself one day after being mistreated that I can continue to feel ashamed and embarrassed of who I am, and feel this way for the rest of my life, or, I can embrace what makes me different, and utilize it to help me stand out to be recognized and remembered by others. Thus, I embraced my persona, allowed myself to be comfortable within my own skin, and yes, I allowed all the color, happiness, and uniqueness of my personality and appearance to finally shine without restraint. To my surprise, I realized that in my job, which was largely a publicly visible role, that what once made me feel self-conscious and an outcast, is what people remembered about me and part of the reason why I was able to successfully expand my network of professionals, eventually aiding me in my career.
By accepting who I was, I was also a happier, more creative change agent and was able to lead innovative, outside-the-box initiatives and ideas. My unconventional approach and appearance attracted many talented colleagues over the years, and through these social networks, I was able to harness and take advantage of opportunities that helped me succeed in school, and my career. After embracing what made me different, I became a more effective leader and have earned the respect of many professionals in higher education throughout the country. My unorthodox approaches have earned me notoriety from publications like FORBES, USA Today, and other media syndications and have earned recognition from the California State Senate and I also earned the title of being one of forty most influential business leaders in Silicon Valley under the age of 40 as noted by the Silicon Valley Business Journal's 40 Under 40 in 2020 award.
It's important to note that being LGBTQ, a first-generation college student, a student with a disability, and being a Latino is not what defines me. These are characteristics that may have presented unique situations; it is not the dyed hair, the vogue of fashion, or my makeup that define me, but it is the underlining theme of never losing sight of my goals/dreams and continuing to strive for personal and professional growth that tell someone who I am and how I want to be remembered.