When Jesse Davila left Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin for Colorado Springs in 2006, he saw his future in music.
“When I first moved, I took a job in sales at Guitar Center,” he recalls. “I thought it was my dream job. My dad was a radio DJ in the ’80s and ’90s … and I love music. That’s where that came from: my dad. I play guitar, and I have a replica of MC Hammer’s platinum record award, and ones for Poison and Tesla too — ’80s stuff.”
But after a year, Davila left Guitar Center to work as a cook for the now-defunct Fox and Hound, and it’s been a winding road from there to his position as database manager for the mentoring nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado.
“I was doing a bunch of odd jobs — struggling,” Davila said. “I needed to make more money, so I ended up as a gutter and siding installer. My dad was in masonry while we lived in Wyoming, and he came down here from Powell and did work at one of the Air Force bases — he created connections in masonry here, so I became a hod carrier too.
“I basically lifted mud to the bricklayers,” Davila explained. “It was really hard work … an insanely tough job.”
A job at Rent-A-Center was next.
“I was a customer service representative, but I was essentially a repo man,” Davila said. “I’d knock on doors 12 hours a day and ask for payment. Most of the time, they wouldn’t have it. I’d have to call the manager and ask what to do. … It was, ‘You have to pick up the merchandise.’”
Leaving that job set Davila on a new direction in work and education. He earned an associate degree in political science from Pikes Peak Community College, followed by a bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public administration from UCCS. Now, he’s pursuing a doctorate in education with a focus on Diversity Equity and Inclusion from Colorado State University.
Davila talked with the Business Journal about his educational journey, his work with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and leaving the worst job he ever had.
Tell us about your work at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado.
I am the database manager on their development team. I like numbers, actually. I like taking the numbers, producing something … answering questions for the organization. I handle all the data and any donations that come in; it all goes through me. I manage it, place it in a certain fund, code it, issue tax receipts and acknowledgments and more. I work both here, called the Pikes Peak office, and in Denver. Before COVID, I was in Denver once a week. Right now, I’m there once a month. That may change, but I can do the majority of my work remotely. I attend the major, annual fundraising events … talking with donors. I’m also on the organization’s DEI committee.
Take us back to Rent-A-Center — and what you did after you left
One day, I went to pick up a bunk bed. The family told me they could pay on Friday … they asked if they could keep it, the bed. My manager said no. I’m disassembling this bunk bed in front of their kids … they’re crying — they were a mess. I’ve had knives thrown at me too. On one occasion, I walked up to a door and kept hearing slams against it. I knock … and people were throwing knives at the front door. I needed to pick up a TV, and the dude started tripping out on me. I just left. I was like, ‘Alright, I’m outta here. See ya!’ Crazy stuff. After I took that bunk bed from those kids, I quit. I signed up at Pikes Peak Community College the day after I left that job. Worst job I’ve ever had in my life, easily.
What did you do at PPCC?
I started as a music major and did two semesters. I got interested in astronomy, but realized that I’d have to basically start over. The first class I got a B in was political science — I found it challenging, so I switched. I earned an associate degree in political science from Pikes Peak Community College. Colorado has a 60/60 program. Essentially, if you get that 60 credits with your associate, they transfer 100 percent. I went straight to UCCS.
What did you study at UCCS — and were you working at the same time?
I worked at Rasta Pasta. At UCCS, I earned a bachelor’s in political science with an emphasis in American political thought. After I got my bachelor’s, I was still working at Rasta Pasta. In a few months, though, I got a job as a legal assistant for attorney Ted McClintock with McClintock & McClintock. Ted is still a good friend — still a reference. As a legal assistant, I was drafting motions, filing motions, setting calendars, picking up first appearances, I’d observe lie detector tests with detectives and intake clients. I did that for a while. I thought I wanted to be an attorney; I almost had a pre-law minor. I started studying for my LSAT … Law School Admissions Test. But I ended up having a conversation with Michael Moran, a criminal defense attorney here in the Springs — really great guy. I had an eye-opening conversation with Mike that made me realize I shouldn’t take the LSAT.
What did you do instead?
I applied to get my master’s at UCCS, and I was hired as the community outreach coordinator for the Pre-Collegiate Support and Success Center there at UCCS. Also, Dave Khaliqi, the executive director at [Colorado Springs] School District 11 and was previously the director of the Center for STEM Education at UCCS … because of him, I became part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team of D11. I was on that DEI team up until I received my master’s in public administration.
When you completed your masters, what was next?
Before I finished, I applied to work for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado. While working as the community outreach coordinator at UCCS, I worked with marginalized youth, lower-income minorities. I ended up meeting Ben Gallegos-Pardo. He currently works at Pikes Peak Community College [as coordinator of multicultural student retention initiatives]. He’s had a couple different roles there now — but at the time, he was working for Big Brothers Big Sisters. I asked him to table some UCCS events, representing BBBS’ mentoring programs, and we’d see each other at other gatherings. He was my introduction to the organization on a local level.
Also, for my master’s, I wrote a thesis with District 49 about restorative practices. Restorative practices is basically … if a kid gets suspended, he’s much more likely to get suspended again. Students who get expelled are much more likely to go to jail — and those who end up in jail, are much more likely to re-offend and are much more likely to go to prison. My thesis work showed that minorities in lower-income are statistically more likely to end up in jail or prison. It’s usually male minorities that are suspended or taken out of class. Restorative practices recognize this and wants to reduce the trend. I want to reduce the trend.
All that work, together, got me interested in working with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Also, working the justice system as a legal assistant opened my eyes to our systematic problems. Anyways, I got hired with BBBS before I graduated.
Tell us about your doctorate.
Yes, I’m currently working on that through Colorado State University in Fort Collins — in education, equity and transformation. So far, I’ve gotten straight As and my paper was awesome; it’s about left-libertarian philosophy, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, about historical perspective, Cartesian dualism — laissez-faire stuff. It’s beefy.
What’s your goal? How do you want to use your education?
Here in America … we’re not as connected to our neighbors. Community organizations, reading clubs, Boy Scouts and bowling leagues are not as prominent — churches are dwindling. Schools have their hands tied by laws and regulations in a way that they can only be supportive to these kids for so long, until they have to turn them over to law — truancy, all that. With restorative practices, if a student was acting up, they ask why. Does he look OK? Are his clothes clean? Is he wearing the same clothes as yesterday? What’s his home life like? Does he have to watch his brother at night because his mom works a second job? Did he eat dinner? I think we need to leverage our schools more … and empower them.
So what kind of job are you aiming for?
For a job, I’d like to do research and teach. Part of me likes the idea of being a principal of a public school. My ultimate dream job is to be a governor.